Julia Glass’s winning second novel serves as a spirited, 500-page refutation of minimalism. When Greenie Duquette laments the potential complications of an extramarital affair, a friend insists, “Darling, simple is the childish prayer on everyone’s lips.” With a contrarian’s love of lavishness, Glass merrily includes everything from digressions on the glories of Dr. Seuss to descriptions of the rich, cholesterol-laden desserts Greenie concocts to diatribes against the flow of anti- bacterial soaps into streams and oceans and the resulting proliferation of supergerms. A figurative painter whose equally expansive Three Junes took the National Book Award for fiction in 2002, Glass clearly embraces a sprawling messiness that harks back to Trollope and Tolstoy.
Like her predecessors, she finds inspiration in the vicissitudes of family strife. Greenie, a successful pastry chef with a precocious four-year-old son, leaves Greenwich Village and her tepid husband to work for the flamboyant governor of New Mexico, a man used to throwing “his grand flirtatious self in every direction.” At times Glass’s tapestry feels soap-operatic (not one but two peripheral characters seek to adopt internationally, and there is an improbable number of love affairs, even for the hormone-driven realm of contemporary fiction), but her unflagging intelligence invariably asserts itself as a corrective. The crucible for these harried urbanites is 9/11, which has somewhat tediously become the default bolt from the blue, causing the protagonists in any number of recent novels to rethink their personal situations. But watching Glass sort out a dozen intersecting story lines is never less than fascinating. In keeping with her nineteenth-century influences, she resolves all loose ends, treating everyone with remarkable evenhandedness in her bustling, congenial world.