A debut novel, complete with recipes (à la Like Water for Chocolate), about small-town life.
The first and most evocative chapter opens in the summer of 1961. Annette, Texas, is holding a pie fair, and controversy erupts when Christina Milner learns that one contestant wants to enter with a sweet potato pie baked by her black maid. The rules are consulted, and the maid’s name goes on the pie. But 12-year-old narrator Roxanne sees that her mother’s victory has a price: Christina is dis-invited from a bridge party. Newcomer Stolz limns other conflicts in her graceful prose, but mostly she celebrates the bygone era and kind of community in which a woman makes up with her husband by baking his favorite cake. Fortunately, she leavens the sentimentality with slightly skewed plot developments and intriguing detail. Roxanne’s father, Carl, owner of a lingerie shop, knows the undergarments of all the ladies in town. He overcomes his jealousy of Christina’s old boyfriend by secretly learning to swim. At the motel where Roxanne works one summer, she discovers that the long-sleeved shirts a guest wears despite the sticky Texas heat hides evidence of a suicide attempt. When a ribbon-tied bundle of her great-aunt’s letters reveals a lesbian affair, Christina tells Roxanne, “I’m happy she was loved.” Drugs mix with the cakes and Cokes when Roxanne’s cousin, Tommy, returns from Vietnam missing an arm and addicted to heroin. But eventually he cleans up, marries, and fathers a child; he can change a diaper with one hand. The slightly cloying finale shows Roxanne’s own 12-year-old daughter learning to bake a cherry pie.
In this cheerful tale finding happiness seems as straightforward as following a recipe. If only it were true.