SWEET DESSERTS by Lucy Ellmann


Email this review


Ellmann's first novel, a fast-paced roman † clef about her literary family (Ellmann's the daughter of the late literary biographer Richard Ellmann), may be called Sweet Desserts, but its recipe calls for more than a dollop of rue. Franny and Suzy Schwartz are sisters who have been raised the American way, complete with pants suits and peanut butter, in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. But when their mother dies suddenly, soon after Suzy's 13th birthday, their grieving and somewhat detached father moves them to England. Their new life is a jolt to both girls--who react by secretly binging on food. In school, Suzy refuses to shed her duffel coat, hoping to hide her increasing girth. Binging and purging will become habits over the years as the sisters grow up, fall in and out of love, and try to come to terms with being hybrids of two cultures. Suzy marries, has a daughter, divorces. Franny drifts to America and back, chasing romance. Then, when their father grows fatally ill, the childhood patterns of conflict, competition and--grudgingly--love are heightened and, ultimately, faced. Ellmann's writing is jittery, funny, and spare. The cathartic tell-all quality here is reminiscent of Nora Ephron's Heartburn, as is its central food-as-comfort metaphor, complete with the inclusion of cooking instructions. But Ellmann is less vengeful than Ephron, less eager to reassign blame--and not afraid to portray herself as the sourpuss in her own garden of sweets. All in all, then, a book that outgrows its title. The story it tells is a special kind of confection, saucy and sad, that's hard to forget.

ISBN: 670-82711-8
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online: