Excerpt from The Whole World Over by Julia Glass, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Whole World Over

A Novel

By Julia Glass

The Whole World Over
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  • Hardcover: May 2006,
    528 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2007,
    576 pages.

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Print Excerpt

A Piece of Cake

The call came on the twenty-ninth of February: the one day in four years when, according to antiquated custom, women may openly choose their partners without shame. As Greenie checked her e-mail at work that morning, a small pink box popped up on the screen: Carpe diem, ladies! Scotland, according to her cheery, avuncular service provider, passed a law in 1288 that if a man refused a woman’s proposal on this day, he must pay a fine: anything from a kiss to money that would buy her a silk dress or a fancy pair of gloves.

If I weren’t hitched already, thought Greenie, I would gladly take rejection in exchange for a lovely silk dress. Oh for the quiet, sumptuous ease of a silk dress; oh for the weather in which to wear it!

Yet again it was sleeting. Greenie felt as if it had been sleeting for a week. The sidewalks of Bank Street, tricky enough in their skewed antiquity, were now glazed with ice, so that walking George to school had become a chore of matronly scolding and pleading: “Walk, honey. Please walk. What did I say, did I say WALK?” Like most four-year-old boys, George left his house like a pebble from a slingshot, careening off parked cars, brownstone gates, fences placed to protect young trees (apparently not just from urinating dogs), and pedestrians prickly from too little coffee or too much workaday dread.

Greenie was just shaking off the ill effects of what she called VD whiplash: VD as in Valentine’s Day, an occasion that filled her with necessary inspiration as January waned, yet left her in its wake—if business was good—vowing she would never, ever again bake anything shaped like a heart or a cherub or put so much as a drop of carmine dye in a bowl of buttercream icing.

As if to confirm her fleeting disenchantment with all that stood for romantic love, she and Alan had had another of the fruitless, bitter face-offs Greenie could never seem to avoid—and which, in their small apartment, she feared would awaken and worry George. This one had kept her up till two in the morning. She hadn’t bothered to go to bed, since Tuesday was one of the days on which she rose before dawn to bake brioche, scones, cinnamon rolls, and—Tuesdays only—a coffee cake rich with cardamom, orange zest, and grated gingerroot: a cunningly savory sweet that left her work kitchen smelling like a fine Indian restaurant, a brief invigorating change from the happily married scents of butter, vanilla, and sugar (the fragrance, to Greenie, of ordinary life).

Dead on her feet by ten in the morning, she had forgotten the telephone message she’d played back the evening before: “Greenie dear, I believe you’ll be getting a call from a VIP tomorrow; I won’t say who and I won’t say why, but I want it on the record that it was I who told him what a genius you are. Though I’ve just now realized that he may spirit you away! Idiot me, what was I thinking! So call me, you have to promise you’ll call me the minute you hear from the guy. Bya!” Pure Walter: irritating, affectionate, magnanimous, coy. “Vee Aye Pee,” he intoned breathlessly, as if she were about to get a call from the Pope. More likely some upstate apple grower who’d tasted her pie and was trolling for recipes to include in one of those springbound charity cookbooks that made their way quickly to yard sales and thrift shops. Or maybe this: the Director of Cheesecake from Junior’s had tasted hers—a thousandfold superior to theirs—and wanted to give her a better-paid but deadly monotonous job in some big seedy kitchen down in Brooklyn. What, in Walter’s cozy world, constituted a VIP?

Walter was the owner and gadabout host (not the chef; he couldn’t have washed a head of lettuce to save his life) of a retro-American tavern that served high-cholesterol, high-on-the-food-chain meals with patriarchal hubris. Aptly if immodestly named, Walter’s Place felt like a living room turned pub. On the ground floor of a brownstone down the street from Greenie’s apartment, it featured two fireplaces, blue-checked tablecloths, a fashionably weary velvet sofa, and (Board of Health be damned) a roving bulldog named The Bruce. (As in Robert the Bruce? Greenie had wondered but never asked; more likely the dog was named after some fetching young porn star, object of Walter’s cheerfully futile longing. He’d never been too explicit about such longings, but he made allusions.) Greenie wasn’t wild about the Eisenhower-era foods with which Walter indulged his customers—indulgence, she felt, was the province of dessert—but she had been pleased when she won the account. Over the past few years, she had come to think of Walter as an ally more than a client.

Excerpted from The Whole World Over by Julia Glass Copyright © 2006 by Julia Glass. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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