Summary and book reviews of The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

The Whole World Over

A Novel

by Julia Glass

The Whole World Over
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2006, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2007, 576 pages

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Book Summary

When a piece of her coconut cake is served to the governor of New Mexico, he woos Greenie Duquette, a Greenwich Village pastry chef away from the life she knows to become his chef – a change that sets in motion a period of adventure and upheaval not just for Greenie but for many others around her.

From the author of the beloved novel Three Junes comes a rich and commanding story about the accidents, both grand and small, that determine our choices in love and marriage. Greenie Duquette, openhearted yet stubborn, devotes most of her passionate attention to her Greenwich Village bakery and her four–year–old son, George. Her husband, Alan, seems to have fallen into a midlife depression, while Walter, a traditional gay man who has become her closest professional ally, is nursing a broken heart.

It is at Walter’s restaurant that the visiting governor of New Mexico tastes Greenie’s coconut cake and decides to woo her away from the city to be his chef. For reasons both ambitious and desperate, she accepts—and finds herself heading west without her husband. This impulsive decision will change the course of several lives within and beyond Greenie’s orbit. Alan, alone in New York, must face down his demons; Walter, eager for platonic distraction, takes in his teenage nephew. Yet Walter cannot steer clear of love trouble, and despite his enforced solitude, Alan is still surrounded by women: his powerful sister, an old flame, and an animal lover named Saga, who grapples with demons all her own. As for Greenie, living in the shadow of a charismatic politician leads to a series of unforeseen consequences that separate her from her only child. We watch as folly, chance, and determination pull all these lives together and apart over a year that culminates in the fall of the twin towers at the World Trade Center, an event that will affirm or confound the choices each character has made—or has refused to face.

Julia Glass is at her best here, weaving a glorious tapestry of lives and lifetimes, of places and people, revealing the subtle mechanisms behind our most important, and often most fragile, connections to others. In The Whole World Over she has given us another tale that pays tribute to the extraordinary complexities of love.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Julia Glass is a master at creating vivid, believable places. Describe the various places you remember from the novel–New York City’s West Village, Santa Fe, the small island in Maine, Uncle Marsden’s house in Connecticut, Marion’s neighborhood in Berkeley. What are the crucial differences between the various settings? How does place influence lifestyle, life choices, and even the temperaments and the personalities of the characters? Where is “home” for Greenie? For Saga? What about Walter?

  2. Describe the structure of the novel. Why does Glass divide her novel into three parts with various chapters? How does she note the passage of time over almost two years? Why do you think the seasons and the holidays are...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If Julia Glass had limited her second novel to just the central story of patisserie owner, Greenie, and her psychologist husband, Alan, she would not have held my interest; but like Anthony Trollope (or for that matter, his granddaughter, Joanna), Glass's strength is in the way she weaves the threads of many people's stories into a colorful quilt that shows family life in all its shapes and sizes. If you're in the market for a story to warm the cockles of your heart, this might well be it.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

The Atlantic Monthly - Elizabeth Judd

[A] winning second novel ... Harks back to Trollope and Tolstoy. Like her predecessors, [Glass] finds inspiration in the vicissitudes of family strife .... Watching Glass sort out a dozen intersecting story lines is never less than fascinating. In keeping with her nineteenth century influences, s he resolves all loose ends, treating everyone with remarkable evenhandedness in her bustling, congenial world.

Library Journal

Glass's long but always captivating tale is a quilt of many colors and motivations whose strongest threads are love of family and sense of self.

Booklist - Kristin Huntley

Glass gracefully builds up to the traumatic event that will affect them all, deftly exploring the sacrifices, compromises, and leaps of faith that accompany love.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While this work is less emotionally gripping than Three Junes, Glass brings the same assured narrative drive and engaging prose to this exploration of the quest for love and its tests—absence, doubt, infidelity, guilt and loss.

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Beyond the Book

Julia Glass's first novel, Three Junes, won the 2002 National Book Award for Fiction. Her fiction has been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, three Nelson Algren Fiction Awards, the Tobias Wolff Award, and the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella. She spent the 2004-2005 academic year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, where she finished The Whole World Over. She is a longtime New Yorker who now lives in Massachusetts with her ...

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