Schogt’s second novel (The Wild Numbers, 2000) concerns a chocolate-maker who pursues perfection in his candies with the same monomaniacal drive as any great artist.
Joop Daalder’s small chocolate shop in Toronto faces demolition to make way for a mega-grocery. Angry and embittered, Joop sees market-driven mediocrity destroying his pursuit of unbending excellence. That effort has shaped his life, which Schogt traces from Joop’s earliest childhood in Holland as the unmusical, non-academic and mostly ignored youngest child in a Dutch family of intellectuals. After Joop’s first accidental taste of carefully prepared food, his own family’s lack of interest in what they eat further alienates him. Later, biting into a ripe apricot on a family vacation, he realizes that “I taste, therefore I am.” While at university, he travels to France, where he comes under the mentoring spell of a village candy-maker who cares less about pleasing his customers than perfecting his chocolate. But Joop must cut his apprenticeship short when his girlfriend Emma gets pregnant. The two soon marry. Back in Holland, he works for a premier chocolate confectioner, where he is disdainful of the company’s shortcuts. After his father’s death, Joop emigrates with his family to Canada and opens a shop that wins acclaim. Focused on his work, he largely ignores Emma and his son, who grows up as the American antithesis of all Joop values, just as Joop was the antithesis of his parents’ values. Is Joop an arrogant fool or an artist willing to sacrifice everything for his ideals? With the demise of his shop, Joop recognizes the emotional cost to himself and his family. His late attempt to connect to his wife and grandchildren demands the same energy he put into his candy-making. Schogt writes about the price of art, but also about socioeconomics, alienation, family and love.
As rich and bittersweet as the best of Daalder’s creations.