Ron's Reviews > Belle in the Big Apple: A Novel with Recipes

Belle in the Big Apple by Brooke Parkhurst
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's review
Sep 24, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: debut-novel, humor

Fair warning: Your ability to enjoy this novel will be directly proportionate to your ability to cope with sentences like "White-collar Manhattan is an overly sanitized urban bazaar, Lisa, and I'm just a country girl used to the smells of the county fair." Some people are going to find that sort of thing charming, others aggravatingly precious, and over the course of the novel, maybe a little of both.

There are some typical first-novel problems here; so much time is spent on defining Belle's voice that other characters suffer by comparison. And keeping the spotlight on Belle and her outsized personality is consistently privileged over narrative action -- the last third of the novel in particular feels especially blurry and it becomes harder to recognize why certain plot developments matter. Narrative payoffs are blunted in other ways; it's promised in the promo literature, for example, that Belle will be mistaken for a call girl in a midtown hotel bar, but in the actual story, this literally amounts to some ironic remarks from another woman, then some guy offering to buy Belle a drink and her ignoring him.

In fairness, though, getting the mixture of worldliness and naivete necessary to make Belle work as a character is extremely tricky, and I think some of the frustrations I mention above stem from the fact that the opening chapters do a better job of taking the time to establish Belle and to give her a solid grounding as a character and to make the reader care about her arrival in New York City and her efforts to make it in the big city, no matter how cornball that sounds. In those chapters, we get a sense of a new southern voice, something in the vein of a younger, hipper Michael Lee West, maybe. I just wish the novel could have maintained that pace all the way to the finish line.

As the plot fragments, though, the recipes sprinkled throughout the novel get better, and there's several dishes here that I'll probably wind up trying to make myself. (The recipes are also a place where Belle's voice is particularly strong, probably because the compact intros require every turn of phrase to be just right.)

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