MIDNIGHT SWEETS by Bette Pesetsky


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Pesetsky's third whimsical novel (Author From a Savage People; Digs) is a high-caloric confection without the slightest bit of nutritional value. A putative ""Zen and the Art of Cooking Baking,"" this affectless tale of zoned-out adolescence and marital infidelity seems the product of a sugar-shocked imagination. Because Theodora Waite, a successful businesswoman known as ""The Cookie Lady,"" divides her life by cookies, her narrative assumes this rather odd shape, with her various creations occasioning non-chronological autobiographical musings. Theo's quest for the perfect cookie has had terrible consequences for her life. Her first husband, a suicidal artist, resentful of his wife's material success, leaves her with two kids and her baking. Husband number two, a scholar of the grotesque in world culture, also takes up with other women, after 11 years of marriage and three more children. Even Theo's five kids think her strange, partly because of her culinary obsession, but also because she sends them away to school at very early ages. Cookies, for this otherwise uninteresting woman, are ""an affirmation of her existence,"" and baking allows her to avoid everyday problems even as it makes her so blissful. Eventually, we're to understand that Theo's confectionary inventiveness resulted from her bizarre family history--a mother who died tragically young, a father who just walked out and left Theo with her helpless stepmother. While baking her way through Home Echonors and a scholarship to college, Theo also became an expert burglar--a skill detailed here--though sometimes she would clean up a dirty kitchen rather than search out the loot. All of this contributes to her ""bitter, warped, and twisted view of family life""--a phrase that's pure boilerplate for today's with-it young writers. Padded with cookie lore and ephemera, the end of the novel reaffirms Theo's organic relation to sweet innovation. Turn the pages quickly, and this literary soufflÉ collapses.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Atheneum