Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives: An Island Memoir by Margot Fedoruk

Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives: An Island Memoir by Margot Fedoruk is a tough book to peg into any one category. It is at once a memoir, a love story, a survival story, a past recounted, and a present life contemplatively discussed. The chapters are accented with recipes, from both her past and present, scattered in-between. Within these pages we get an intimate view of the life of its author, Margot Fedoruk. The reader meets Fedoruk in Winnipeg with her somewhat dysfunctional family. Her roots are of a Slavic-Jewish upbringing, and her family life included her two grandmothers, Big Baba and Little Baba. Here’s a taste from the beginning.

               “I was three and too young to understand that she {my mother} was destroying his {my father’s}      books because they were valuable to him. … The pile of books in the middle of the living room floor reminded me of the leaves I had jumped in that fall. They were on fire. She called the fire department when my father had come home drunk and set the pile aflame. … I don’t recall being worried; I trusted my mother completely and knew no harm would come to me if she was around.” (p. 9)

In the beginning, I was intrigued by Fedoruk’s story. The first part of the book is a fast read and I was engaged. She tells of her desire to leave Winnipeg in 1989, and withdraw from everyday life with her “stormy” family, in the hope of finding a better life. Her belief was that the distance between herself and her family would surely act as a breath of fresh air and be a release from the tumultuous life she was brought up in. By age twenty-three she is ready to move on to her new job, tree planting in B.C. It is here that her life takes a turn. She meets a man that would become the love of her life. They are an odd combination.  The author follows her red-headed sea-urchin-diver partner to the West Coast. But not so fast! They have many trials and tribulations along the way, which include a stint in Calgary, before a return to Island Life on Gabriola. Fedoruk writes in detail about her relationships and experiences. And there is much going on – finding work on an island with limited job availability, busy mom, extended family far away, absent partner, endless chores, and her mind full of swirling thoughts. 

Fedoruk’s story overflows with her thoughts of longing for her partner to stay home with her rather than chase his dreams as a diver. He was always away on some part of the water or in a hotel room waiting to go into the ocean. Her life as a wife and mother of two girls is well-documented in Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives.  It is filled with struggle (lack of money), loneliness (lack of her partner), constant self-doubt (lack of self-esteem), and odd jobs to help keep her family afloat (lack of a career). Her creative and entrepreneurial outlet as a soap maker brings her in contact with others on the Island. It offers her a stable community within which she has friends, acquaintances, and the opportunity to make some extra money. During her relocation to Calgary, her life is again fractured and the longing to return to Gabriola Island sets in. Her life away from the water is even starker and a return to her Island home is calling her back.

I found the second half of the book dragged along with sadness, that at times made it difficult to continue reading. Fedoruk’s life is such a tangle that I found it challenging to find “humour” (as stated in the book blurb) through her struggles and her hardships. I did clearly feel her loneliness at all times – whether she was working, with her daughters, talking with friends or cooking the recipes included in her book. I felt it even when she was with her partner because she knew he had to leave again, and it was always too soon.

This sad feeling became a weight on me as I read and I wanted it to come to the end so I could see if there was some inspirational reveal within the story. Usually when reading a memoir, I, like many, look for an encouraging or uplifting message. This eluded me. In Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives: An Island Memoir, Fedoruk describes her life and her feelings well, and it made me feel heartbroken for her. But I too found myself wanting to escape it. 

About the Author

Margot Fedoruk is a writer, book reviewer and entrepreneur, whose work has been published in the Globe and MailQuill & QuireBC BookWorldOrmbsy Review, and Portal. She has a personal blog called Death Defying Acts of Living and an instructional soapmaking blog called Wash Rinse Repeat. For more information, visit

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Heritage House (Oct. 18 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772033952
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772033953

Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere.  She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.