The Whole World Over
In her new novel, The Whole World Over, Julia Glass asks the age-old question: Food or love? Like the cakes her Greenie Duquette makes, Glassí scenes and characters are sweet and delicious, if a little overdone. The novelís greatest charm is how Glassí pastry chef heroine sees the whole world through the sugarcoated lens of food. When Greenie originally married her husband, she thought his bad qualities would disappear "like cognac set aflame in a skillet." When she sees leftovers in her dead parentsí refrigerator, she finally comes to terms with their passing. And it is her cooking that she thinks will save her marriage and change her life.
Like many tasty cakes, though, too much can be a bad thing. This story of Greenie Duquette, her husband, Alan, and the New Mexico governor who hires Greenie to be his chef is dragged down by an onslaught of secondary characters. Even though most of these characters are appealing, they distract too much from the main story. Halfway into the novel Glass is still introducing new characters: Gordie, Scott, Marion, Charlie, Frida, Denise . . .
These characters eat up whole chapters and long scenes. And when Glass departs from Greenieís story line--especially to devote chapters to Walter, the stereotypical gay male friend to the female lead--you just want to get through it so you can find more out about Greenie, her cakes, and her men. Itís like reading War and Peace, if only the peace sections were interesting.
The Whole World Over is, at its best, all ephemeral pleasure. Glass has a beautiful way with words, but they bring little coherence and depth to her novel. She obviously loves her characters, most apparent in the ridiculously charming New Mexico governor who offers Greenie an escape from her failing marriage. He is only a realistic Republican through the eyes of a New York liberal, and his Southern accent is extremely overdone, but Glass conveys his charisma through words so precisely chosen that he becomes irresistibly lovable.
Glass also stumbles when she strays from her quick-witted comedy. Her sadder scenes slip into melodrama, as when two characters both have parents who died in fatal car accidents off cliffs. Another character loses her memory in a tragic accident, a little too soap-opera contrived.
The 528-page novel is obviously in need of some editing, but you sense Glass couldnít bear to cut any of her darling characters. She wanted the book to be about Greenie and everybody else--she wanted to have her cake and eat it, too.