It is not at all surprising that at the end of a long and illustrious career as a food writer, Ruth Reichl would decide to try her hand at fiction. It is also not at all surprising that the results of her effort pale in comparison to her food writing. Reich’s debut novel Delicious! is about a young aspiring writer who moves to New York to work as the assistant to the editor of a well-known food magazine. When the magazine unexpectedly folds our heroine is kept on as the only employee in the big old mansion that used to house the magazine offices, to answer reader letters and calls. The mansion has secrets and so does our heroine. A handsome professor helps unearth both.
Reichl’s novel isn’t unpleasant to read; it’s light and fun and easy and her descriptions of food are as sumptuous and lyrical as they were in her food writing. The problem is that because of Reichl’s acclaim as a food critic and writer, a reader expects more from her than the reliance on cliche for character profiles and the reliance on coincidence to move plot forward that one finds in Delicious! It’s foreshadowed through most of the book but when the heroine finally ditches her glasses for contact lenses and everyone realizes she has been beautiful all along, you’ll want to throw the book across the room.
There’s a cookie recipe referred to in Delicious! The cookies are called Snowballs and the recipe was devised by a 12-year girl during WWII. The 12-year old imagined making the recipe at the end of the war and that the cookies would contain all of the things that had been rationed or unavailable during wartime: maraschino cherries, chocolate, etc. When our modern-day protagonists make the cookies they find, of course, that throwing a bunch of sweet things together does not make a balanced and delicious cookie. The cookies are fin;, they’re edible, but not nearly as appetizing as a dish containing ingredients chosen with more restraint might have been. It’s a shame Reichl didn’t consider the same lesson in the composition of her debut novel.