Picks and Pans Review: Midnight Sweets

UPDATED 01/23/1989 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/23/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

by Bette Pesetsky

Be advised: It would be a good idea to stock up on quality cookies and milk before starting to read this quirky but affecting (and certainly appetite-whetting) offering from Pesetsky, whose two earlier novels were Digs and Author from a Savage People. Theodora Waite, the heroine of this story, has been obsessed since she was a girl with baking cookies and, as an adult, has managed to turn her obsession into a highly profitable chain of cookie shops, à la the Mrs. Fields of real life. "My personal life is my cookies," she says early on. As her story is revealed in a series of short, sharply written fragments that skip elliptically about in time and among characters, the cookies turn out to be just about the only sweet things around. Her mother dies when Theodora is still a child, and her father abandons her, leaving her to survive by robbing the homes of her teenage chums in between her cookie baking marathons. Two marriages and five children later, she is still persisting in her drive to create the perfect cookie. This novel is often reminiscent of Nora Ephron's Heartburn, partly because in both stories the heroines demonstrate a serious passion for the kitchen. Pesetsky's Theodora remains far more passive, though, than Ephron's Rachel was, and in Pesetsky's novel the humor is much subtler. Whereas Ephron concocts a scene where her heroine dumps a Key lime pie on her philandering hubby, Theodora gets even this way: "I did not mention to my husband one morning that the seam of his jacket near the left shoulder had begun to open up. A small two-inch tear." As with a good cookie, this novel is just sweet enough to satisfy without being cloying. It is delicate, too, but it doesn't crumble. (Atheneum, $17.95)

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