Review

True Confections

by Katharine Weber

Alice Ziplinsky was teenaged Alice Tatnall when she set a
friend's house on fire while responding to a boy's teasing remarks.
She tells us in this tale, relayed in the form of a legal affidavit
decades later, that the raging inferno that earned her the nickname
"Arson Girl" was just an accident. Sure, she shot a water gun at
the boy, who was tending the barbecue at the time, but she didn't
know that the gun was filled with starter fluid. This incident,
resulting in her parents going bankrupt and consequently writing
Alice out of their lives, also caused the college she planned to
attend to reject her.

Lonely and depressed, Alice is working at an ice cream parlor
when she notices an ad for a worker at Zip's Candies, a local
family-owned confectionary. Almost on a whim, she applies. While
owner Sam Ziplinsky likes Alice immediately (and the feeling is
mutual) and hires her on the spot, his wife, Frieda, despises
her.

Frieda's animosity grows ever stronger as Alice marries Sam and
Frieda's son, Howard. Even though Alice embraces the Ziplinsky
heritage, absorbing the family history, detail by detail, and
attempting to understand their Jewish faith, her mother-in-law
continues to ostracize her. However, Alice and Sam lunch together
frequently. During their meals, as the years go by, Alice absorbs
stories from the family tree and history about both Zip's Candies
and candy manufacturing in general. She defends, or at least
accepts, the disturbing fact that their most popular treats ---
Little Sammies, Tigermelts and Mumbo Jumbos --- are based on the
children's book LITTLE BLACK SAMBO (their cringe-worthy motto is
"Dat's Tasty!").

Alice tells us of her 30-plus years married to Howard, a man 10
years her senior, whose sense of entitlement irritates her even as
it attracts her. During those decades, except for brief maternity
leave periods, Alice continues to work at Zip's Candies. Together
with their two children, Julie and Jacob, Alice and Howard seem to
live an enviable life, although Alice confides that even during the
best years, she enjoyed multiple weekly appointments with two
counselors: a psychoanalyst and an analyst specializing in
alternative methods. Almost inevitably, she finds herself betrayed.
She also must answer to Howard's worthless sister Irene, who
questions where family loyalty should lie.

Although Alice can be an endearing narrator at times, her
monologue, filled with page after page of fictional and factual
details about the process of candy manufacturing and the histories
of candy making and the Ziplinsky family, frequently slows the
narrative. In addition, it's hard to tell if author Katharine Weber
is purposefully creating an unreliable narrator in Alice, but it is
clear that Alice is not an especially sympathetic character.

Alice describes people in general as "both hypersensitive and
judgmental." She goes on to say "my altruism can be misunderstood,
whether it takes the form of serving perfectly wholesome beef stew
to a malnourished little second grader friend of Jacob's whose
vegan parents were practically starving him, or giving a
much-needed haircut to a kindergarten classmate of Julie's…"
Describing Julie, Alice says her daughter feels "wronged by the
world," which is ironic since Alice seems to feel that same sense
of being on the outs with everyone except father-in-law Sam, and
possibly her son Jacob. In fact, Jacob feels wronged by his mother,
who freely admits she reads private emails between Jacob and his
girlfriend.

For readers fascinated with learning about the history of candy
companies or who enjoy involved family sagas, TRUE CONFECTIONS may
well satisfy. Others preferring a bit more plot to balance out
extended narrative, along with a main character worth rooting for,
might find themselves a bit disappointed.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (terryms2001@yahoo.com) on January 23, 2011

True Confections
by Katharine Weber

  • Publication Date: December 7, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway
  • ISBN-10: 0307395871
  • ISBN-13: 9780307395870