If you're feeling stressed, but can't afford that getaway weekend in the Caribbean don't despair. Grab your lawnchair, find a patch of filtered sun, inhale deeply and enter Karen Stolz's World of Pies. Although set in the turbulent '60s, this novel about growing up in a small Texas town will fill you with a sweet nostalgia that goes down as easily as Mabel's Angel Food Cake with Chocolate Sauce. (Recipe included!) Comfort food recipes are, in fact, sprinkled throughout World of Pies, but Stolz's real accomplishment in this taste-tempting first novel is the delicious batch of episodes she has baked up for us about the life of Roxanne Milner, a baseball-loving tomboy whose first-person narrative rings with the honest emotions the exhilaration and devastation, the confusion and wonder of growing up.

In the hot summer of '61, 12-year-old Roxanne would rather be out pitching balls to her cousin Tommy than in the kitchen rolling pie dough, but the ensuing pie fair has the townswomen in a baking frenzy as they strive to perfect their individual recipes for the contest. But "at the eleventh hour," to her mother's delight and her own surprise, Roxanne develops an interest in the art that affords the mother a chance to teach and the daughter to learn. "And it happened," she says, amazed at her ability to be gentle and precise. "I got the feel of the dough and learned how to make a decent piecrust." The lessons she learns are not confined to the kitchen as race becomes a factor in the pie contest, the Vietnam War looms, and she gets her first, less-than-riveting kiss. While trying to figure out boys, and believing she will never look "right," Roxanne experiences the consequences of taking a stand against racism in her small hometown, she gains insight into the complexities of her parents' marriage and eventually explores her own burgeoning awareness of the increasingly attractive opposite sex.

Stolz packs a lot into 153 pages. Written with a flair for understatement and the telling detail, this humorous, relationship-rich tale is wholly satisfying. It may be a slim volume, but I found it a deep dish, full of insight into the human heart.

You'll want to savor Roxanne's adventures along with her recipes, so you may want to bake ahead. Then you won't have to stop turning pages to check the oven! Lemonade, anyone? Linda Stankard is a writer in Cookeville, Tennessee, who believes in the restorative powers of baked goods.

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