It all gets more delicate, yet more ferocious. Soon we meet a chef who is “dancing with a molten river of chocolate” that she caresses “like a lover.” One of her sweets “tasted like rain, another of the desert.” Is that a melon? A woman takes a bite and is “stunned by the roar of cantaloupe juice inside my head.” The roar in my head came from a different source.
Everything about “Delicious!” is cozy, closed off from reality, calculated to land buttered side up. It’s about a young woman from California named Billie Breslin who gets a job as executive assistant to the editor of Delicious!, a venerable food magazine that sounds not unlike Gourmet.
Billie resembles Anne Hathaway’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” She’s a frump who merely needs tailored clothes and a decent haircut to turn her into a knockout. In Ms. Reichl’s hands her makeover sounds like Olivia Newton-John’s in “Grease.” Billie gets “smoky bourbon” eyes and hair that’s “a riot of golds and bronzes winking and glittering in the light.” She becomes a pop tart.
Most of the other characters in Ms. Reichl’s novel put you in mind of “The Devil Wears Prada,” too. As she introduces them, you think: there’s Stanley Tucci. There’s Emily Blunt. Bill Nighy and Alec Baldwin, not in that film, should also text their agents.
Ms. Reichl’s descriptions of these people aren’t far from Nora Roberts’s in her romance novels. The magazine’s creative director has “olive skin, emerald eyes, and chiseled cheekbones.” Its editor is “truly great-looking; the photographs captured his all-American looks.” The descriptions of everything are like this. What does snow seen from inside a window look like? A paperweight.
Billie is a precocious foodie with the keenest taste buds of her generation. “I identified hyssop and maybe myrtle and a bit of cassia,” she declares about one mouthful, “but then it got away from me.” At one point a potential suitor refers to her as SuperCheeseGirl — the title of a movie I’d pay to see.
Billie comes with a back story (dead mother, dead sister, semi-estranged father) and a trust fund. When Delicious! is forced to shut down, she becomes its last employee, performing mop-up editorial duties alone in the magazine’s office mansion. She stumbles upon a secret chamber and finds letters written by a girl to James Beard during World War II.
Finding more of these letters is a chore, because one of the magazine’s former librarians has cunningly hidden them. So the hunt is on, in a Dan Brown meets Nancy Drew sort of way. Characters spout sentences like, “The plot thickens.”
Food-world observers will get small frissons from some of the names in “Delicious!” Billie shares her surname, Breslin, with a gastro pub in Manhattan run by the chef April Bloomfield. These characters hang out at a place called The Pig — almost certainly a reference to another of Ms. Bloomfield’s restaurants, the Spotted Pig. The girl who wrote the letters to Beard is named Lulu, perhaps to honor Lulu Peyraud, a Provençal food legend. Billie’s aunt is Melba, like the toast.
Yet there’s no complicated sense of the food world in “Delicious!” It’s set in circa 2010 but exists in walled-off sitcom space. The year could almost as easily be 1980, or even 1960.
By the novel’s midpoint, life lessons are being heaved in our direction, like stones to drowning people. “There are many kinds of crime,” a wise old woman says to Billie, who’s lost her urge to cook. “I’ve always thought the most unforgivable is to have a gift and turn your back on it.” I’d rank defenestration slightly higher on the unforgivability scale, but only because I’m weird about heights.
Billie’s interior monologues are just as painful. You start to imagine Little Orphan Annie walking up to a microphone and uttering them with a catch in her throat: “I thought how much confidence it took to walk through the world with your heart on your sleeve. Hope can’t hurt. And then I thought how lucky I was to be here, to be experiencing this. Things can change in a single minute.”
Food is so complicated a topic, especially elite food. It’s tangled up with class and race and politics and resentment. Little to none of this comes into play in “Delicious!” Ms. Reichl, talking down to her audience, never allows her intellect to surface. It’s a food novel that never even made me hungry. Except for that recipe at the end, which my teenage daughter, a good baker, made the other night.
It was terrific. I’m going to tear that page out.Continue reading the main story
By Ruth Reichl
380 pages. Random House. $27.
Option 3: An emotional personal narrative Am I Ever Going To Be Enough?“It’s hard. It’s going to be hard, always, but if you want it badly enough, keep going. Just do it. And work as much as you possibly can. But just know that it’s really difficult, but if you want it badly enough, it is possible.” This quote was said to my class and I by Helen Anker, a theater dance teacher I had the pleasure of working with over the summer. The class heart to heart talk that we had was very emotional and touching on the subject of show business. The harsh truth about auditions and booking jobs was naked and revealed to us all. There is always going to be someone that’s just as good as you and possibly better at the same audition as you. More often than not, they are the ones booking the job. Does this mean I’m not good enough? Am I ever going to be good enough as me? Like Helen said, these questions will always cross your mind. A piece of advice from