Review

Seducing Harry: An Epicurean Affair

by Judith Marks-White



SEDUCING HARRY, by award-winning humor columnist Judith
Marks-White, is aptly named. This sweet, frothy crème brulee
of a novel is as smoothly seductive as they come. From the opening
chapter --- indeed the very first line --- SEDUCING HARRY inundates
readers' senses, displaying tantalizing images of mouth-watering
delicacies, designer clothing, luxurious country houses, delectable
men and dishy women. This is all presented through the unflinching
gaze and playful voice of Coco Plotnick Hollander Harding, an
epicurean with an insatiable appetite for not only the pleasures of
the palate but of the flesh as well.

Coco's unabashed desire for a man whose cravings and passions match
her own propel the plot as she finds herself languishing in her
marriage to Parker --- he of the predictable "prix fix" lovemaking
style and lusting for Harry, "Plastic Surgeon to the Stars" and an
ardent foodie whose fervent desires reveal an "a la carte"
preference both at the table and (Coco is sure) in the bedroom.
Sparks fly between Coco and Harry from their first meeting at a
"Chaine des Rotisseurs Vegetarian Banquet," and after much verbal
innuendo their fate is all but sealed. Unfortunately for Coco (but
fortunately for the reader), Harry is married to the narcissistic
Eclaire, a woman whose looks have been nipped and tucked and whose
waxy façade seems to have penetrated her skull and frozen her
brain.

Eclaire is one of the many peripheral characters whose delightful
quirks and delicious neurosis readers will devour. From Coco's
femme fatale of a mother to Parker's WASP train wreck of a sister,
the bit players of SEDUCING HARRY are by no means relegated to
sideline appearances and clichéd personas --- they are the
stars of the show in their own mind and they dominate the pages
they flit across.

The name-brand New York City restaurants at which Harry and Coco
dine also should be billed as supporting characters. Renowned
haunts such as "Café Des Artistes," "Lupa" and "Café
Grey" serve as a kind of culinary foreplay to Harry and Coco's
evening activities. They consume elaborate dishes and sinful
desserts with almost as much ardor as they devote to each
other.

Interspersed between Coco and Harry's increasingly heady tango are
essays that Coco, a newly-minted humorist for Connecticut's
Seaport Gazette, has published. Readers will enjoy this
narrative technique as it serves to give a fuller sense of Coco
herself --- rounding her out by imbuing her character with both
analytical aptitude and a droll sense of humor. The essays
themselves are cleverly placed and never jarring; instead they
often serve to give context to the preceding chapter. I found
Coco's mother-driven missives ("Letters to a Newly Married
Daughter," "My Mother the Siren") particularly engaging. Other
readers may prefer the pieces that demonstrate Coco's satirical
flair for marital issues ("King of the Clicker") and
cuisine-inspired musings ("My Years of Eating Dangerously").

For many readers these little interspersions may prove a refreshing
(and necessary) palate cleanser. SEDUCING HARRY begs to be devoured
in a manner akin to an extravagant seven-course feast --- consumed
in one sitting, without pause --- and all the lusty descriptions of
food and sex may prove overwhelming for those unaccustomed to such
an overload of sensual stimulation.

As Harry and Coco's relationship moves past the stage of
less-than-innocent flirtation combined with a few furtive kisses to
a full-blown, madcap and potentially disastrous affair, the tone of
the novel begins to resemble less a sweet and creamy French dessert
and more an appetizer of chilled fresh oysters --- raw, salty, sexy
and serious. While the sex is never devoid of humor, readers may
find themselves blushing through their chuckles. Moreover, the
delightful nature of Coco's character renders it hard not to get
caught up in her fantasies and root for her and Harry. Yet the
rasher she and Harry become, the more palpable the sense of
foreboding to the point that, when Parker receives a letter
informing him of an "indiscretion between two parties close to
(him)," readers will not be particularly surprised.

Luckily, despite the serious turn of events, the novel, much like
Coco, never loses its élan, its flair and --- most importantly
--- its sense of humor. Marks-White has a few deliciously
unexpected twists and turns up her sleeve, the revealing of which
throws both Coco and the reader for a loop, yet we never lose faith
in our peccadillo-ridden protagonist.

Coco recalls fondly her youthful days spent being the "neighborhood
scamp," and her impish pluckiness serves her well. Much of the
delight of reading SEDUCING HARRY is the proximity with which it
brings us to Coco. Fully engaging from the very first line, Coco
keeps her head held high as she navigates the choppy waters of
secrets revealed and scandals uncovered. Readers will never doubt
for a second, though, that she will not emerge unscathed --- a bit
wiser, perhaps, but with a newly whetted appetite for more.

Reviewed by Jen Krieger on January 23, 2011

Seducing Harry: An Epicurean Affair
by Judith Marks-White

  • Publication Date: January 16, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345492382
  • ISBN-13: 9780345492388