White (A Soft Place to Land, 2010) was clearly inspired by the friendship of Atlanta chef Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis in this labored story about a young gay man who leaves Atlanta for Manhattan and is taken under the wing of a legendary African-American female chef.
In 1929 rural North Carolina, 12-year-old Alice is separated from her beloved twin, James, when he is sent north after a lynching. Her consolation is cooking, and she grows up to be a world-famous chef. In 1970s suburban Atlanta, white middle-class teenager Bobby becomes an outcast in his conservative, Christian family once his sexual orientation is known. White’s Atlanta is geographically correct—she loves to drop street names—but her descriptions lack any of the city’s complexity during that decade. With a small inheritance from his understanding, saintly grandmother, Bobby heads to New York in 1981 and begins working as an assistant to owner Gus at Café Andres, the restaurant Alice opened with Gus years earlier. She has since moved on to write a famous cookbook but agrees to attend a luncheon put together by Bobby. The lunch is a failure—Alice is cool and preoccupied while her agent, Kate, is interrupted by a visit from her niece Amelia, distraught over a marital crisis—but Bobby goes on to make a name for himself as chef at Café Andres; unfortunately, the food descriptions sound like menu entries, lacking real passion or sensuality. Shortly after Bobby’s longtime lover dies from AIDS in 1988, he runs into Alice again. She apologizes for her previous rudeness, and soon, they are inseparable; not only do they share a love of Southern cooking, but both have loved and lost Jewish men. In 1989, Kate’s niece Amelia finally leaves her philandering husband, who happens to be from a well-heeled neighborhood of Atlanta. She moves to Manhattan and begins to uncover the predictable yet farfetched secret hidden within Alice’s cookbook.
Turgid prose pits ever so sensitive heroes and heroines against intolerant bullies.