From a homey opener (chef Greenie Duquette bakes cinnamon buns in her Greenwich Village kitchen) to a final party a year and a half later (Greenie contributes a cake of ”vanilla, maple, orange, and coconut”), the extravagantly long new novel, The Whole World Over, from extravagantly talented Julia Glass is a voluptuous treat.
In leisurely chapters laden with detail — Greenie never just bakes, she concocts ”a coffee cake rich with cardamom, orange zest, and grated gingerroot” — Glass explores the loneliness and longings of contemporary New Yorkers. Greenie — earthy, practical — is the book’s emotional center, and around her revolve her chilly psychotherapist husband, Alan (”Whatever’s the opposite of Latino — that’s you,” Greenie tells him); Walter, a gay restaurateur obsessed with an unattainable paramour; and Saga, a brain-damaged young woman who rescues stray animals. Fenno McLeod, the Scottish bookseller from Glass’ 2002 Three Junes, makes a welcome return in a supporting role.
What preoccupies these talky, well-fed characters (the baking should be a tip-off) is the desire for hearth, home, and above all, children. Greenie hankers after a baby, while Walter takes in a teen-age nephew. Alan coins the term ”baby crossroads” for the conflict drawing couples to his couch, and he has his own extramarital brush with a baby-mad female. Glass sometimes overplays her nesting theme, but she breathes such warm life into her characters that you forgive her.