"OLIVIA: Or, The Weight of the Past" by Judith Rossner

"OLIVIA: Or, The Weight of the Past"

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Gourmet cooking, the television industry, private-school troubles, and one of NYC's last eligible bachelors amply furnish the life of Caroline Sindler in this warm, if disappointingly anticlimactic entertainment by Rossner (His Little Women, 1991, etc.). The youngest child of a New York Jewish academic family, Caroline takes after the family's Italian housekeeper, a passionate cook, rather than, say, Gertrude Stein. Bored by college, Caroline spends a summer as an au pair in Italy, where she gets pregnant by -- and consequently married to -- Angelo Ferrante, a Sicilian ladies' man. At least she can cook in the restaurant where he tends bar. Predictably, once the couple move to Rome to operate a restaurant of their own, Angelo returns to his stable of mistresses while Caroline slaves in the kitchen and tries to care for their daughter, Olivia. The restaurant succeeds, but the marriage doesn't; Caroline says good-bye to 12-year-old Olivia (who refuses to leave her father) and retreats, traumatized, to her parents' Westport, Conn., home. Two years later, just as Caroline has recovered enough to start holding cooking classes in her Manhattan loft, Olivia reappears, claiming that her father has recently married a monster and begging to live with her mother instead. Caroline has good reasons for optimism: Her precious daughter is coming home, prospects are brewing for a cable TV cooking show, and the Jewish doctor upstairs is showing romantic interest. But she hasn't reckoned on spoiled teenaged Olivia's furious accusations and desire for revenge, which demands that several lives be shattered before mother and daughter can forget and forgive. The climax builds, fueled by Olivia's anger and Caroline's guilt -- but in the end, this competent chef solves all her troubles so neatly and easily that one wonders what the fuss was about. Until then, though, engrossing characters and entertaining riffs on the importance of traditional meals keep the pages turning.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Crown