When The New York Times Book Review featured Ruth Reichl’s new novel, Delicious, I immediately popped over to the Hamilton county library’s website to reserve a copy—me and about 100 other people. The former Times critic and Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief writes of food with considerable flair and her multi-volume memoirs (including Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples) are well-loved classics in the food writing milieu. Auspiciously, my copy of Delicious arrived right before a long family trek to Minnesota, and was a sanity-saver on a 13-hour car ride with my 3-year-old son.
With Despicable Me cued to repeat on the laptop in the back seat, I snuggled down and lost myself in the story of young Billie, Reichl’s protagonist, a college dropout who miraculously lands a job as an assistant at a revered cooking magazine, and also moonlights at a cheese counter. The fictional magazine is housed in an historic Greenwich Village mansion. All spoilers aside, said mansion has a locked library with a secret room that contains the lost correspondence between James Beard and a young girl from Akron, Ohio, circa World War II.
While the lost letters theme was fairly interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed the cheese shop characters, I found myself more than a bit disappointed by the predictable chick-lit tropes of the makeover and the rich-successful-sensitive and heartthrob-handsome boyfriend. The combined ability of makeover + new man to make Billie’s life suddenly so sparkly was downright lame. Billie’s new haircut, contact lenses, and funky-fresh wardrobe selected by her elder, gay, fairy-godfather / co-worker was trite for my tastes and seemed to count much more towards the character’s increased confidence than her career success and the academic adventure provided by the letters. I realize that a publisher needs to sell books for the masses, but I’m still rooting for a plucky, bookish girl-wonder protagonist in glasses who is the proud heroine of her own story. Publishers take note: That’s a book I’ll actually buy.