Cover image for World of pies : a novel
World of pies : a novel
Stolz, Karen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2000]

Physical Description:
161 pages ; 22 cm
World of pies -- Your mail lady -- Sort of man my father was -- You never know -- Angel food -- Solace -- Wedding boots -- Hospitable -- A troll named Beatrice helps out -- Cold and sweet -- Epilogue.
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X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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First-time novelist Karen Stolz has created a cozy, poignant and exquis- itely written episodic tale of family, food, and love. Set in a small town in Texas in the 1960s, where there wasnt a lot to pick from, summer-job wise: counter-girl at Jerrys Dairy King, shampoo girl at Barbs Tint n Clip; the maid job at the Bluebonnet Motel, a young girl named Roxanne comes of age. Whether its a pie-baking contest that becomes a lesson in racial politics and courage; a crush on the new mailman (who is a woman); or dealing with the death of her beloved father and her mothers remarriage, Roxanne never fails to touch our hearts. And if that werent enough, the recipes following each chapterwhich range from Christinas Lemon Meringue Pie to Doreens Frozen Fruit Saladevoke a cozy sweet sensation that makes it seem as though there could be no better place to live than tiny Annette, Texas. A selection of the Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club. Advanced praise for World of Pies: Karen Stolzs talent shines forth like a jewel. Annette, Texas, is a place that I believe readers will want to visit again and again. Gloria Naylor, author of The Women of Brewster Place If Karen Stolzs first novel were a pie, it would be the lemon meringue of your childhoodcrusty on the outside, sunny but a bit tart inside, and topped with a dreamy confection Irresistible. Mary Willis Walker, author of All the Dead Lie Down

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Like fine chocolates, these sequential stories about a girl named Roxanne growing up in Annette, Texas, have a smooth, sweet exterior that conceals a surprise inside. In the first vignette, set in 1961, tomboy Roxanne sees her parents in a new light during a town pie-baking competition when her mother gives credit to a black woman in a pie-baking contest rather than to the white woman who employed her. By turns humorous and touching, Stolz portrays Roxanne in her travels from girlhood to motherhood, introducing, along the way, Roxanne's dad, proprietor of Carl's Corsets; her cousin, Tommy, through whom readers experience the vicissitudes of the Vietnam War and its aftermath; and an assortment of other relatives, friends, and lovers. The stories sparkle, but each is followed by recipes for the treats mentioned, a device that was novel in Like Water for Chocolate (1992), relevant in Diane Mott Davidson's mystery series, and funny in Patricia C. Wrede's Book of Enchantments (1996), but is now a bit stale. --Diana Tixier Herald

Publisher's Weekly Review

Comparisons to Fried Green Tomatoes have become so commonplace that readers begin to suspect publishers of hyperbole until they come across something as front-porch charming as this episodic debut novel, covering nearly 30 years in the life of Roxanne Milner. Beginning in 1961, when Roxanne is 12, the 10 stand-alone chapters, most ending in dessert recipes and each serving up a witty, quirky slice of a single life, take as their primary setting Annette, Tex., a postage-stamp-sized town where even the advent of the first female mail carrier is big news. Roxanne's father is the proprietor of Carl's Corsets, while her mother is immersed in housekeeping and cooking, especially in "the world of pies, " a distinctively feminine territory that baseball aficionado Roxanne is not at all certain she wants to enter. But after she participates in the town's first pie fair, she develops an interest in baking. Adroitly maneuvering an energetic, episodic and unpredictable plot, Stolz makes a series of glimpses into smalltown life more universal by dropping a new element into each chapter--a mother's old boyfriend, a new baby, the arrival of the drug culture--each revealing a lively new angle of Annette and its inhabitants. Waves in Roxanne's domestic tide pool ripple outward, reflecting the more titanic racial, social and political changes in the world at large. True, there are some redundancies and some of the chapter endings are a little too cozily pat, but overall this is engaging storytelling, as nostalgically appealing as a 10› Coke. Agent, Gail Hochman. $100,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book club selections; 6-city author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With each slice from World of Pies, we taste the sweet and sour events of Roxanne Milner's life as she grows from a precocious nine-year-old to a mature adult of 38. This short first novel, set in Annette, TX, serves stories of Roxanne's small-town life among an extended family, along with recipes of soul-fortifying desserts. Her stories mostly involve ordinary concerns, but she does have to deal with her cousin Tommy's return from Vietnam as a drug-addicted amputee. Readers are left with that pleasant feeling at the end of a satisfying mealDthat a nice long nap will follow. Recommended for all public libraries.DJeanette L. Sommers, Birmingham, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-A collection of bright, lighthearted yet poignant stories about a close-knit family. The portrait of Roxanne, a small-town girl growing up in Texas in the `60s, begins with pie-making lessons from Mom during her 12th summer and continues until her own preteen daughter's instruction in pastry making begins. Roxanne's father runs a small shop selling bras and corsets, a source of embarrassment for the whole family, but a lucrative business. In the first episode, her mother rouses the town's ire by insisting that a pie baked by one matron's maid be entered in the local fair under the baker's own name-never mind who paid for the ingredients and provided the kitchen. Roxanne supports her mom, but quakes at the thought of the taunts she could receive when school starts. When she is 15, her mother becomes pregnant. An only child, the teen is both mortified and jealous, and feels guilty for having such thoughts. In the following story, at 17, the protagonist describes parking in a quiet spot with her current boyfriend and being caught almost in the act by Officer Fenster. In a subsequent chapter, she is a college freshman when her father dies suddenly; the grieving family is sustained not just by relatives and friends, but by the whole community. Growing up in a family and town such as this one rings true for the `60s, and the characters are just as real and revealing today.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One World of Pies The summer of 1962, the year of the pie fair, I was wild for baseball. I'd slip out just as it was coming light, wearing cutoff denims and one of my dad's old T-shirts, washed and worn to transparency. My mother made me wear an undershirt beneath, as if there were something to hide. I ran to the ballpark flat-footed, scuffing my tennis shoes against the grainy sidewalk for traction. If I got there early enough, my cousin, Tommy, would pitch me a few balls to kill time before the boys showed up.     It was a Monday in early June. It was still cool at this hour; sometimes there was even a breeze. I tossed the baseball back and forth to myself as I walked. "Morning, Roxanne!" a neighbor or two would holler, Mrs. Fern letting out her cat, or Mr. Breebock picking up his newspaper from the sidewalk, or if he was lucky, his porch. I would pause in my ball tossing to wave. I knew everyone; like my daddy said, Annette, Texas, was a town small enough to know everybody, big enough to pretend we didn't when needed.     Since Tommy was an only child like me, we were more like siblings than cousins. When we were six, he had cut my favorite doll in half. I remembered him dangling her before my eyes, how I watched the sawdust sift out of her stomach. But now that we were twelve, we were friendlier. I was especially nice to him that summer, so he would help me with my pitching. This particular morning I was lucky. Tommy helped me for a good twenty minutes before the boys got there. When he grabbed my arms to show me how to hold the bat, he was a little rough; I liked that he treated me like the boys. He smelled like salty dirt, and his lank blond hair nearly hid his dark green eyes.     When I got home that morning my mother handed me a cool, soapy facecloth and a tall glass of orange juice clicking with ice cubes. "Rinse yourself off and help me with these pies," she told me.     She was already in full swing with her pie baking before eight. The dusting of flour on her eyelashes reminded me of snow on a Christmas tree. After I'd cleaned baseball dust from my face and all up and down my arms, she would apply a frilly apron to me. One minute I had a baseball bat in my hands, the next a rolling pin with bright red handles. My heart wasn't in it. Baking seemed trivial, a waste of my batting arm.     There was a lot of excitement in Annette, Texas, that summer. It was my father who came up with the idea of the pie fair. The Chamber of Commerce wanted to promote community spirit and drum up a little tourist business, too. The fair would be held the Fourth of July weekend. Everything would be pie-related: handmade aprons, tablecloths, pottery pie plates. Children would make pot holders and there would be a Miss Cherry Pie and a King Key Lime.     My father owned a lingerie store called Carl's Corsets. He took a lot of ribbing about his part in the fair. "Yessiree, Carl. Nothing an out-of-town visitor likes to do more after buying a hunk of pie than go browse through brassieres!"     In those days, I was extremely embarrassed about my father's line of work. Everyone around town joked about how he must know who was a D-cup and who wore the black merry widows that were occasionally displayed in the back of the store. But mostly my father hid out in his office adjacent to the store or perched in a neutral zone like handkerchiefs and gloves in the front; these he sold himself from time to time. He hired blue-haired ladies to assist his customers with their delicate purchases.     My mother met my father when she worked at the store one summer. She was the niece of one of the blue-haired ladies. She was considerably younger than my father, and he was so flustered to see soft, young hands folding the papery crinolines that he asked her out. My mother claims he married her so he wouldn't have to decide what to order for the store anymore. Before he married my mother, all his goods were white and stiff-looking. With my mother in his life, blush pink, blue enchantment, and lavender dusk slipped into the store, in satin peignoirs and lush petticoats. Business boomed. My father had never meant to be a lingerie salesman; the business had been left to him by an uncle. But my father accepted his fate, using his accounting skills to tally pajama sales instead of stocks and bonds.     His seat on the Chamber of Commerce was my father's real passion, next to my mom and me, and since the pie fair was his brainchild, he worked over the plans during his lunch hours and after dinner each night. He asked for my thoughts on promotion, and I knew when I had an idea he would listen. But mostly I just had ideas for pitching better, schemes for eluding my mom's pie-baking instructions.     When word got out about the pie fair, women all over Annette began perfecting their recipes. My father used to say if someone had flown a helicopter over Annette that summer they'd have seen a mist of flour rising from the town. There was a lot of discussion about the virtues of glass versus tin pie pans, cornstarch versus arrowroot for thickening pie juices. My mother was on a committee to determine the rules of the contest. All pies were to be made completely from scratch, they decided: no canned pie fillings or pudding mixes. And no collaboration. The flyer they printed read: "Your sister-in-law's crusts are divine but her fillings are watery, and your crusts are like sawdust but your fillings are a dream? Too bad, you do it all yourself." Of course, there was no way of knowing. No pie spies posted at kitchen windows, peering through gingham curtains.     My mother was determined to teach me how to make a pie-crust. She wanted me to enter the junior homemaker division of the contest. I complained bitterly, but I fooled around some with the dough anyhow. In a tiny town like Annette there is nothing whatsoever to do in the summer, so the pie thing was something, anyway. My early efforts produced crusts with craters and little in the way of flavor.     "Roxanne, honey, you don't have to beat on that dough. You act like that rolling pin is a baseball bat!" my mother cried.     Then she demonstrated on a separate bowl of dough. The gold crumbs gathered to her fork magically, cleaving in seconds to a perfect round. She baked for hours every day the weeks before the fair. I knew she was very good at it, but pie baking was no spectator sport. My dad and I were baseball fans; we'd leave my mother to the world of pies.     "Were those apples from the Winemeyer orchard better than these?" my mother asked my father. He tested slice after slice of various pies for firmness and flavor.     "Exquisite, Christina. Juicy, and that crust just melts in my mouth. But ... a mite too much lemon juice I think." He puckered his lips, making us laugh.     The same was going on in houses all around town. Delivery boys wheeled ten-pound sacks of sugar and flour to homes, comparing tips and arm muscles among themselves. The grocery stores ran specials and counterspecials. BROWN SUGAR A DIME! display windows beckoned.     My mother asked me to serve coffee when the contest rules committee met at our house about two weeks before the Fourth of July kickoff. I was edgy, bored, and hot, and I felt like a fool wearing an apron Mom had appliquéd with pie slices. The ladies were going on about tablecloth colors as I took an empty creamer to the kitchen for refilling, and the next thing I knew, something was going on, out in the living room. Evidently it had come out that the sweet potato pie Emma Reed intended to enter in the contest would be baked by Mary Willis, a black woman who did her cooking and ironing; it was Mrs. Willis's own recipe. Mrs. Reed had meant to slip it into the contest as her own.     I walked out to the living room with the pitcher filled with half-and-half.     "So what if the girl made it. Of course I'm going to enter it in the contest. It comes from my kitchen! " Mrs. Reed gulped some too-hot coffee, and I noticed her lipstick was smeared at the edges of her mouth.     "Christina, be reasonable," Josie Buford said. "No one but Emma's colored girl can make a sweet potato pie this good."     "There's no debating that the pie is delicious," my mother said, accepting the cool pitcher from me. "The point is, Emma didn't make this pie, Mary Willis did. The pie should be entered under Mary's name."     I missed what happened next because Tommy came knocking at the back door, wanting me to help him with some display tables he was building for the fair. My mother said I could go, and I immediately ripped off my apron and threw it in the kitchen sink. I wished Tommy hadn't seen me in that stupid checked sundress my mother made me wear for the committee ladies. How would he ever take me seriously as a baseball player?     "You'll get dirty," he warned me.     "I don't care," I assured him. Now that Tommy and I were walking on the sizzling street all I could think of was my half-slip twisting and clinging to the sweat on my legs. I wished I had the nerve to flick it off and ditch it behind some bush.     Once we got to Tommy's I mostly just held the slats of wood while Tommy hammered. He swore whenever the hammer came anywhere near his thumb. I admired this in him--girls could hardly say boo.     "Now we've got to test this table for weight," Tommy told me. He picked up the nearest object of considerable weight, which happened to be his dog, Mitzi, and set her in the middle of the table. In several slow seconds, Mitzi slid off the table onto the ground. "Mitzi, you're a joke," Tommy said. He gave Mitzi a peck on her right ear, but then I think he was embarrassed I'd seen him kiss on the dog. "Guess the table has a little slant," he mumbled. "Hand me that plane, Roxanne."     I reached for the plane and nearly dropped it when I heard my aunt's screechy voice assaulting us.     "Roxanne and Tommy, come in here and try this mincemeat pie!" my Aunt Ruthie hollered from the house.     "Mincemeat, yuck. Mitzi, you go in and eat it." Tommy shoved poor Mitzi gently in the direction of the house.     I let out a peal of laughter.     "Kids?" Aunt Ruthie shouted. "What's so funny?"     At dinner that night, I realized my parents weren't speaking to each other, but it was funny how long it took me to see this. I noticed some things, like how my mother wore a housecoat to the table, which she never did. Dad liked to see her in pretty dresses, enjoyed knowing they were billowing with slips from his store. My mother was wearing a shapeless broadcloth slip under her housecoat, from JCPenney. It was an old slip, from before their marriage, I knew for a fact! And the pots and pans were on the table, where typically my mother served from china bowls. Dad looked normal except that he had his sleeves rolled up. This was also unheard of. My parents were usually formal at the table, as if they were still courting, when, in fact, proof of more than twelve years sat between them.     The reason I didn't realize they weren't talking to each other was because each of them talked with great animation to me. It was a point of pride with my parents. I'd heard my mother tell friends, "Carl and I hardly ever quarrel, but when we do, we never take it out on Roxanne." I was kind of enjoying all the attention, forking biscuits onto my plate and drizzling them with honey while my parents asked me questions about my day. But not a word traveled the table between them.     Later I stood in the upstairs hallway, holding my toothbrush and listening to my parents downstairs.     "I'm on the Chamber of Commerce, Christina. The pie fair was my idea! And now you go and stir up trouble over sweet potato pie, of all things. How do you think that makes me look?"     "Mary Willis makes that pie, Carl. She's a wonderful baker. I want to see her name sitting in front of that pie when the contest rolls around, not Emma Reed's. What's so hard to understand?"     "You know as well as I do the trouble that can come of this. You got a taste of it today at your meeting. We'd like to give credit where credit is due, but--"     "Then do it, Carl. Maybe it seems like nothing to you, but Mary's name belongs in front of that pie. A woman bakes a little piece of herself into a pie; it means a lot ..."     Then I heard Mom crying, and I heard no more talking. I went to my room and put on my seersucker nightgown, then realized it was still light out, nowhere near bedtime. Everything seemed a bit off, somehow. It made me feel funny that Mom was making a thing out of this pie rule situation. I wanted my parents to be like the Father Knows Best family. No controversies there: only lost turtles turning up in Mrs. Anderson's TV kitchen. My mother was drawing attention to us, and I didn't like it. At twelve, I felt conspicuous enough already, with my hair hanging limp and my clothes all wrong and the gap in my teeth and not even a twinge of breast showing yet. I checked once more, unbuttoning my gown. Nothing.     Now my mother was making me more noteworthy, as if it weren't embarrassing enough having a father who used the word brassiere daily in his workaday world. I wanted to disappear. I didn't know any black girls at that time. There were only a handful at my school, and none had been in my class the year before. The black girls I saw at the park fascinated me, with their glossy kinky hair and chocolaty skin. I thought they were beautiful, but when I told a friend this once at school, she said, "What?!" and then I didn't know what to think.     The next morning I was changing into my bathing suit at the country club when I heard some girls talking about my mother's stand on this sweet potato pie thing. That's Annette for you, I thought. Everyone knows about everything.     "And I suppose she wants a colored queen, too, a colored Miss Cherry Pie?!" I heard one girl say.     "Next thing, we'll be swimming next to them in this pool!" said the other girl.     "Gawd!" the first one screeched.     I came around to the showers where they were and let them see I was her daughter. Before I had a chance to know I thought it, I said it. "They're people, too, you know." Then I stuck my head into the shower water for a second and stormed out, shaking hot water on whomever I passed.     Once I was submerged in cold pool water, I realized what I'd done. I'd said that to older girls. I began shaking, from the cold water and from my fear of what would happen when I went to school in the fall, the taunts I'd get. "Nigger lover!" And the usual: "Tomboy!" and "Hey, does your daddy sell a bra that's flat enough for you?"     That afternoon I went to the grocery store with my mother. Some people were friendly to us same as ever, but the butcher didn't trim the fat off anything, and no one helped us put the groceries in the car. When we got home Mom asked me to put the groceries away. She went to lie down on the sofa and I brought her a cool cloth for her forehead.     "Hold all my calls," she said, smiling. We had a joke where she pretended to be the president's wife, with dozens of social engagements.     "Yes, Mrs. Kennedy," I answered.     "I guess you know what's going on about Mrs. Willis's pie?" my mother asked. She took my hand.     I nodded yes and told her what had happened to me at the pool.     "Oh, honey!" she cried, clasping my fingers tightly. Her eyes filled with tears. "Well, I should have known they'd take it out on you, too. I'm so sorry, Roxie honey. Only ... it's a lot bigger than a pie, you know?"     I felt proud of my mother at that moment. I knew then there was more to her than pies and aprons. * * *     Evidently my parents had made up. When I came in for dinner that night they were back to their old selves, dressed for dinner, and animated. My mom had damp curls on her forehead from where the wet cloth had rested.     "I am renewed," she told me. "Thanks for helping with the groceries, honey."     "Roxanne," my father said, "when your mother's right, she's right." Nothing more was said about the pie fair that night.     The next day another meeting of the contest rules committee was called, and Mary Willis's pie was accepted into the fair under her own name. My mother certainly hadn't persuaded everyone Mrs. Willis deserved credit for her pie like any white woman there, but it was typed clearly in the rules, in the flyers that had been distributed around town. A woman bakes her own pie herself. Rules are rules.     My mother seemed to glow over the next few days before the fair, as she pulled pie after pie from the oven. Aside from the contest, pies would be sold by the slice, used in pie-eating contests, and whipped-cream ones would be used for pie-throwing games. The women of Annette were producing hundreds of pies.     And there at the eleventh hour, I finally developed an interest in pie baking. My mom was a patient teacher in those long hot days over the oven. We kept a pitcher of ice water alongside us to use in the dough to keep the butter cold, and to splash on our faces as the day got hotter. And it happened; I got the feel of the dough and learned how to make a decent piecrust.     "Don't overwork it now; it's tender as baby skin," Mom told me. Gently, I patted and rolled. I learned to pour the filling so that only a decorative trickle would simmer over the edge of the pie plate.     The pie fair was a success. A lot of people stopped in Annette that weekend, most on their way to someplace more exciting, but some stayed overnight and mentioned coming back to Annette one day. I didn't win the junior homemaker contest, but I did get a pale pink honorable mention ribbon for my brown sugar pie.     My mother's lemon meringue took fourth place in the main contest, and she got a silver-plated pie server engraved with her initials. Aunt Ruthie's mincemeat pie didn't place, but she won second place for her crocheted tablecloth with a red apple centerpiece. Mary Willis's sweet potato pie didn't place in the event, but many slices of her pies were bought and enjoyed.     The day after the fair, my parents and I were having ice-cream sundaes downtown at Doreen's Drugstore. There was only left-over pie for dessert at home and we were all tired of pie, so Dad suggested we go out. I sank my spoon into the thick dark chocolate at the bottom of the bowl and let the melted vanilla run over the sides of my spoon.     Doreen's husband Herbert was whacking up candy canes to make into peppermint ice cream. There was a steady tapping and then the sprinkling of pink candy on the marble countertop. He was the only person in the drugstore aside from Doreen at the front register and us there at the counter stools. The air in the store was heavy with French-fry oil and mediciny smells from the pharmacy.     "No pies to bake," my mother said, her voice surprised. She must have felt the way I did when they let us out of school in May. No homework!     We heard the bell on the front door ring, and in came Rita Cameron. She had been on the pie committee and was in Mom's bridge club. Mrs. Cameron made a beeline for the hair care section, just a few yards from the lunch counter, and picked up a bottle of blue luster shampoo. As she looked up from the shelves, her eyes met my mother's.     "Christina," she said. "Glad I ran into you."     My mother smiled and opened her mouth to say something.     "The bridge game tomorrow at Emma Reed's?" Mrs. Cameron said. "It's canceled." She pivoted on her heels and clicked her way across the store with sharp steps, to pay Doreen for the shampoo up front. The door fell shut behind her with its cowbell ring.     I burst into tears. At the time, I didn't know why.     "Something wrong with her sundae?" Herbert asked.     "No," my mom said. "She's just tired. We all are. It's been a long summer. I never baked so many pies before." Mom's eyes misted but she wouldn't give Mrs. Cameron the satisfaction of tears, even though Mrs. Cameron was already in her Chevy, driving home with her blue shampoo.     My mother loved bridge the way Dad and I loved baseball. I knew the bridge game hadn't been canceled. Only my mother's presence there had. She had had her victory with the rules committee, but there would be a price to pay; the rest of that summer would be a bit lonely for my mom.     I didn't realize till much later that my father's business had suffered some that summer also. Some of the ladies took their business to neighboring towns. And so my dad, who had dreamed up the pie fair as a boon to business, lost a little in his own store that year. Still, he was proud of the fair. Years later we joked about how poorly Emma Reed's dress hung on her in the photos of pie fair events, because she shopped elsewhere for her "girdle and whatnot," as my dad put it.     In one of those pie fair pictures, I can make out Mary Willis in a corner, with her sweet potato pies a blaze of orange in the picture. And my mother is the reason she's there. Copyright © 2000 Karen Stolz. All rights reserved.