There is one serious flaw in this diligently researched biography: the role Alice B. Toklas played in the world--essentially that of ""the writer's wife""--does not justify so much attention. The fact that the writer was another woman, the pioneer modernist Gertrude Stein, is a tribute to Miss Toklas' courage and imagination, but it doesn't make her wifely and secretarial chores any the more interesting. Whenever the monumental Miss Stein appears in the narrative--vigorous, ecogentric, vulnerable--she throws Miss Toklas sadly in the shade. The book belongs, as did Miss Stein's own The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, to Gertrude rather than Alice, despite the efforts of Simon to drag Alice center stage and keep her from straying back to the wings. Even before Miss Toklas met Miss Stein, ""a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun,"" she does not grip the reader. Born in San Francisco a hundred years ago in an upper-middle-class Jewish family, she was too Victorian, apparently, to reveal much about her lesbian nature. All we are told is that her romantic attachments were women. After Miss Stein's death, Miss Toklas continued to live as a votary. Her one endearingly outrageous act, including a recipe for hashish fudge in her cookbook, turns out to have been a mistake: a friend had given her the recipe and she sent it on to the printers untested, not knowing that hashish is marijuana's kissing cousin. All told, Miss Toklas' natural habitat is nearer the footnote than the full-fledged biography.