True Confections

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Overview

"Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky's marriage into the Ziplinsky family has not been unanimously celebrated. Her greatest ambition is to belong, to feel truly entitled to the heritage she has tried so hard to earn. Which is why Zip's Candies is much more to her than just a candy factory, where she has worked for most of her life. In True Confections, Alice has her reasons for telling the multigenerational saga of the family-owned-and-operated candy company, now in crisis." Nobody is more devoted than Alice to delving into the truth of Zip's history,

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True Confections: A Novel

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Overview

"Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky's marriage into the Ziplinsky family has not been unanimously celebrated. Her greatest ambition is to belong, to feel truly entitled to the heritage she has tried so hard to earn. Which is why Zip's Candies is much more to her than just a candy factory, where she has worked for most of her life. In True Confections, Alice has her reasons for telling the multigenerational saga of the family-owned-and-operated candy company, now in crisis." Nobody is more devoted than Alice to delving into the truth of Zip's history, starting with the rags-to-riches story of how Hungarian immigrant Eli Czaplinsky developed his famous candy lines, and how each of his candies, from Little Sammies to Mumbo Jumbos, was inspired by an element in a stolen library copy of Little Black Samba, from which he taught himself English. Within Alice's vivid and persuasive account (is her unreliability a tactic or a condition?) are the stories of a runaway slave from the cacao plantations of Cote d'Ivoire and the Third Reich's failed plan to establish a colony on Madagascar for European Jews.

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Editorial Reviews

Jincy Willett
Weber does superb work with Alice. Like all good narrators, she isn't entirely trustworthy, but she's articulate, critical and thoroughly engaged, such interesting company that the reader may not need to know whether that adolescent house-burning was really an accident. She's a formidable woman, and her story doesn't hinge on a Big Reveal. True Confections isn't a rollicking novel, since Alice isn't the rollicking type, but it's got everything: humor, treachery, class struggle, racism, murder, capitalism and mass quantities of candy. Dieting readers may suffer. Others, after turning the last page, may find themselves online, researching the origins of their own dimly remembered childhood treats…The business of America is candy. True Confections is a great American tale.
—The New York Times
Lisa Zeidner
Despite being giddy fun, True Confections also poses some sly, sophisticated postmodern questions. What do candy manufacturers and novelists have in common? According to Weber, more than you'd think. The candymaker, like the novelist, lives, breathes and dreams her creation. The small candy factory, like the literary novelist, finds it hard to generate interest for quirky, original products in the world of tasteless, big-box dreck. A novel should give us "that unique blend of sweetness and pleasure and something else, a deep note of something rich and exotic and familiar" that a bite of good chocolate does. True Confections certainly delivers that delectability.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this winning, offbeat tale, Weber unfurls Alice Tatnall’s insecure Unitarian adolescence, which leads to her approval-seeking adulthood as the wife of candy heir Howard “Howdy” Ziplinsky. Alice has felt ostracized by family and peers after accidentally burning down a classmate’s house as a teenager. As a result, her college acceptance is rescinded, and she ends up working at Zip’s Candies, where she meets and falls in love with the owner’s son, a Jewish man 10 years her senior. After marrying Howard, Alice takes to the candy business quickly and has two kids. Alice’s story, framed as an affidavit, is a pleasure to read and full of small and not so small surprises, including the near-tragedy at the candy company that has much to do with why she’s writing an affidavit in the first place. Alice is an immediately lovable narrator, and her narration eventually bears hints about its possible lack of credibility, giving readers even more of a reason to keep turning pages. This story of love, life and sweets is a genuine treat. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
Sweet and sour tales of life in a New England candy factory. Perhaps Weber wanted to embrace the same premise-intricate oral history of a doomed manufacturing plant, laced with family drama-that underpinned her previous novel (Triangle, 2006, etc.). While similarly amorphous and rambling, this lighter text adds enough satiric bite to make it slightly more palatable. It takes the form of a legal affidavit by Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky, who recalls her 33-year career at the Zip's Candies factory, starting with her initial infatuation. "A certain burnt sugar and chocolate aroma hung in the air, that marvelous, inevitable, ineffable, just-right aura of Zip's Candies, that unique blend of sweetness and pleasure and something else, a deep note of something rich and exotic and familiar . . . I have loved that smell every day of my life from then to now," Alice confesses. After revealing herself as the local "Arson Girl" who burned down a classmate's house during an adolescent fit, Alice examines her troubled relationship with Howard "Howdy" Ziplinsky, heir to the candy throne, and her subsequent marriage into the convoluted family. The novel's most successful elements are its most uncomfortable ones. Alice reveals trade secrets like the roots of signature product Little Sammies, which take their name from the controversial children's book Little Black Sambo, and the company-ending Little Susies, a white confection snuggled uncomfortably between two Little Sammies, attracting charges of racism. Weber's pointed deconstruction of the beloved children's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also bracing. Unfortunately, the narrative frequently bogs down in interminable, long-winded accounts ofthe family history and the subsequent fight for control between Howdy and his greedy sister Irene, ending in yet another conflagration. Too often wastes the tasty potential of its sticky setting.
From the Publisher
Indiebound Indie Next Notable Selection, January 2010

"Ms. Weber has studded her narrative with tasty facts about the history of the candy business in America."
—Amy Virshup, New York Times

"TRUE CONFECTIONS is her most delectable novel yet, a book that interweaves a history of candy, chocolate in particular, with a sweeping story of America's immigrants, race relations and religion from before World War II to the present day...True Confections has plenty to digest. The last line is delicious.
Diana Wagman, Los Angeles Times

"With her fifth novel, TRUE CONFECTIONS, Katharine Weber has concocted a sly and playful book...True Confections is a hoot, but a hoot with an edge.
—Karen Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[A] succulently inventive fifth novel...Weber skillfully weaves fact and fiction...A novel should give us "that unique blend of sweetness and pleasure and something else, a deep note of something rich and exotic and familiar" that a bite of good chocolate does. True Confections certainly delivers that delectability.
—Lisa Zeidner, Washington Post Book World

"In Katharine Weber's tricky, treat-filled new novel, set in a fictitious candy factory in real New Haven, what you get is more than you might expect…it's delicious and written with wit and energy."
Hartford Courant

"Weber unleashes a wacky comic sensibility….Filled with candy lore, impassioned critiques of chocolate, and Alice’s one-of-a-kind takes on marriage and family, this is sweet reading for fans of the offbeat."
Booklist

"TRUE CONFECTIONS is as slyly ambitious as it is funny, tackling themes such as greed, intergenerational strife, betrayal, and the decline of the small manufacturer... It’s a real treat."
Historical Novels Review

“Brilliant . . . In an age characterized by artificial sweeteners and cheap fillers, Katharine Weber’s book feels like a gift—a novel filled with characters so real they come off the page and into your life.”
—Rich Cohen, author of Sweet and Low
 
“Delicious, stuffed with humor and brimming with greed and goodness. Weber adroitly evokes a real candy factory, with all its aromas and intrigue, providing the perfect setting for the Ziplinskys to chase their dreams. True Confections is good enough to eat! Better yet, savor one of the best novels of the year!”
—Susan Karl, president and CEO, Annabelle Candy Company

Praise for TRIANGLE

“A thing of beauty . . . a structurally dazzling novel whose formal acrobatics have a purpose beyond their own cleverness. That is, to make readers feel anew the tragedy of the Triangle fire.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
 
“Katharine Weber’s crackerjack historical mystery may be the most effective 9/11 novel yet written— and it isn’t even about 9/11.”
—Entertainment Weekly

Praise for THE LITTLE WOMEN

“Stops being droll only to be funny and almost never stops being exceedingly smart.”
—Richard Eder, New York Times

Praise for THE MUSIC LESSON

“Likely to haunt you when you’re done with it . . . A wonderful book.”
—Washington Post Book World

Praise for OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

“With vibrancy and a steady barrage of linguistic brio . . . Weber provides a blend of artistry and insight far beyond what we usually see in a first novel.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

From the Hardcover edition.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Katharine Weber's comic fifth novel, True Confections, is a wry, sly, and sassy tale told by a gossipy and wisecracking narrator who is unreliable and proud of it. The book opens with an affidavit, in which Alice Tatnell Ziplinsky of New Haven, Connecticut swears the matters, facts and things she describes are "true and correct to the best of my knowledge." Uh huh. From that point on, her outpouring is tartly subjective, infused with embellishments and distortions, and in varying degrees hilarious, irritating, and oddly touching.

This is a strategy Weber's readers are likely to find familiar -- though the effects are not often so comic. Her work springs from a fascination with the discrepancies in memory, and the ways in which perceptions change over time and shift according to circumstance. Triangle (2006), her previous novel, is steeped in tragedy, with the motif of flaming bodies plunging to earth evoking both the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, and the terrorist attacks of September 11. Triangle's story is told by a centenarian survivor of the fire who has lied about what happened for decades -- a scenario which allows Weber to underline the role of self-interest in testimonials and historic documents. The Little Women (2003), her update of the Louisa May Alcott classic, sets up a narrative counterpoint among the sisters: Joanna is writing a novel; her sisters argue about the "facts" in reader's notes.

In True Confections, Weber's ear for the self-justifying tale teller picks up zanier notes. Alice's penchant for botching things and rationalizing afterward is evidentfrom the time she sets a high school classmate's house on fire in high school ("I didn't mean to burn down that house. It isn't arson if there is no intent.") She ends up with a one-year suspended sentence and two years' probation. Her family is bankrupted in the payoff end of the deal. An only child, Alice is rejected by her parents, loses her scholarship to Wesleyan, and ever after is known as "Arson Girl" in New Haven.

Undaunted, Alice talks her way into a job at Zip's Candies, an 85-year-old New Haven candy company. Zip's is best known for Tigermelts, Little Sammies, and Mumbo Jumbos, confections inspired by Little Black Sambo, a library book stolen by the originator of Zip's, a Hungarian immigrant, to help him learn English. Alice is smitten on her first visit to the factory: "A certain burnt sugar and chocolate aroma hung in the air, that marvelous, inevitable, ineffable, just-right aura of Zip's Candies, that unique blend of sweetness and pleasure and something else, a deep note of something rich and exotic and familiar that makes you nostalgic for its flavor even though you've never tasted it before."

Alice marries the Zip's heir, Howie Ziplinsky, has a son and daughter, and immerses herself in the business. She gains the patriarch Sam's respect, and seems fated to run the factory, much to her mother-in-law's horror. For yes, at the nutty center of True Confections is a sticky family drama, complicated by sibling rivalry, adultery, and a fight for control of the family business after Sam dies.

Alice dips into the history of the Ziplinsky family, including a secret family line extension based in Madagascar. She details her clashes with her mother-in-law Frieda, gives her a recipe for chicken soup with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then berates her because it's tasteless, and describes her sister-in-law Irene's too-close relationship with a young Camaroonian man who claimed to have been a child slave on an African cacao plantation -- a falsehood not discovered until after the two had racked up months on the speaking circuit and were on the verge of a book deal. She also explores the reactions to the Zip's brand names and slogan "Dat's Tasty" over several decades, and concludes the names were "retro," bestowed out of naivete, not racism.

After 33 years, Alice notes, her marriage hit the doldrums, if not the skids. In her testimonial she defends herself against charges of fiscal mismanagement, justifying such expenses as 25 years of psychoanalysis with Dr. Gibralter, working away at "the glacially slow process of turning ghosts into ancestors" while simultaneously seeing the alternative-oriented Ellie Quest-Greenspan. "Each of them thought I had come to my senses and stopped seeing the other. I was committing therapist adultery," she admits, "But what of it?"

Slipped in between the layers of Alice's somewhat suspect history is a nostalgic homage to the real life immigrants who helped build candy dynasties, creating such timeless sweets as Mounds and Almond Joys (started in 1920 at the Peter Paul factory in Naugatuck, Connecticut, named after candymaker Peter Paul Halajian, an Armenian immigrant who had candy stores) and Tootsie Rolls (developed in 1896 by the Austrian born Leo Hirschfield, who sold the chewy, cylinder-shaped caramel/fudge penny candy at his corner shop in New York City).

Weber also exploits the culinary appeal of candy lore, describing, for instance, the tricky part about "enrobing" a chocolate bar, Sam's insistence upon adding salt to the fried peanuts in Tigermelts, Hershey's acquisitions of artisanal chocolate makers Sharffen Berger and Dagoba. "Organic, schmorganic," she scoffs, addressing the question of the sources of cacao, "fair trade" and otherwise.

Alice's persnickety takes on various competitors provide a bonus of insight into the candy business. "I don't understand why Mars wants to dilute the M&M's line . . .with those irridescent Premiums," she carps. But she has high praise for innovations like the Sour Apple Abba Zabba and the White Kit Kat bar. After Sam's death, she adroitly shifts to a focus on trendy energy bars, repurposing Tigermelt equipment ten days a week to make Detox bars (ground flaxseed, dried blackberries) and Index bars (acai and goji berries). and the unexpectedly toxic funeral "Bereavemints" (Howie's idea, she claims).

As Weber draws this extravaganza to a close, she shows how disastrous it can be when a rumor goes viral. Alice, who pointedly disdains white chocolate in favor of high quality dark chocolate, changes her mind after she tastes a Green & Black sample at the 2008 All Candy Expo. The addition of Madagascar vanilla -- the Ziplinsky family's secondary crop -- makes the difference. "Ecstasy! Revelation! Incredible mouthfeel! Creamy vanilla pleasure flooded through me." Inspired, Alice invents Little Susies -- the fudgy center of classic Little Sammies enrobed in white chocolate. She hastily packages each Little Susie carefully snuggled between two Little Sammies. At CandyCon at the Javits Center, a snarky culture blogger with a devoted following interprets the pack as "candy miscegenation," setting off a "viral tsunami." Once again, the sweet is turned to sour -- and the combination, as in many candies, is irresistible. --Jane Ciabattari

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307395863
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/29/2009
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

KATHARINE WEBER is the author of the novels Triangle, The Little Women, The Music Lesson, and Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber, and is a thesis adviser in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Introduction

In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this book—as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading True Confections, we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait before reviewing this guide.

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Foreword

1. How reliable a narrator is Alice? Do you trust her? She observes the hidden meanings and subtle inflections all around her, but is she equally aware of her own subtexts?

2. Can you identify moments in each chapter of True Confections in which Alice adds meaning to what she experiences or describes? Can you identify moments in each chapter in which Alice seems to overlook or gloss meanings in what she experiences or describes?

3. Are Little Sammies racist? What does it really mean to be racist? If you are aware that others may define something you have said or done as racist even if it was not your intention, is it still racist?

4. True Confections is a novel in which there are many instances of lies and deceptions. Alice stakes a claim for her own veracity starting with the title of the book. What is the truth about the history and meaning of Willie Wonka's lovable Oompa Loompas? What is the truth about the runaway boy from the cacao plantation on Ivory Coast?  What is Howard’s relationship with his relatives in Madagascar?  What is the truth about Frieda Ziplinsky’s chicken soup recipe? Is Alice entirely innocent of the arson charges that seem to be a pattern in her life? 

5. Why do you think Alice cheats on her psychoanalyst by seeing another therapist on the side?

6. Why is Alice so eager to become part of the Ziplinsky family?

7. Why is Alice’s relationship with Sam Ziplinsky so much more successful than her relationship with Frieda Ziplinsky?

8. The Madagascar Plan is a historically true though unrealized goal of the Third Reich during the Second World War. Were it not for JuliusCzaplinsky’s ambitions when he learned of it, which in turn led to the establishing of a Madagascar branch of the Ziplinsky family, what do you imagine Alice’s marriage to Howdy Ziplinsky would have been like?     

9. Did reading True Confections change the way you think of chocolate? Did reading the book make you crave candy? Which kind? Did you succumb? Did you gain weight while reading True Confections?

10. What would it be like to have Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky as a member of your book group?

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Reading Group Guide

1. How reliable a narrator is Alice? Do you trust her? She observes the hidden meanings and subtle inflections all around her, but is she equally aware of her own subtexts?

2. Can you identify moments in each chapter of True Confections in which Alice adds meaning to what she experiences or describes? Can you identify moments in each chapter in which Alice seems to overlook or gloss meanings in what she experiences or describes?

3. Are Little Sammies racist? What does it really mean to be racist? If you are aware that others may define something you have said or done as racist even if it was not your intention, is it still racist?

4. True Confections is a novel in which there are many instances of lies and deceptions. Alice stakes a claim for her own veracity starting with the title of the book. What is the truth about the history and meaning of Willie Wonka's lovable Oompa Loompas? What is the truth about the runaway boy from the cacao plantation on Ivory Coast?  What is Howard’s relationship with his relatives in Madagascar?  What is the truth about Frieda Ziplinsky’s chicken soup recipe? Is Alice entirely innocent of the arson charges that seem to be a pattern in her life? 

5. Why do you think Alice cheats on her psychoanalyst by seeing another therapist on the side?

6. Why is Alice so eager to become part of the Ziplinsky family?

7. Why is Alice’s relationship with Sam Ziplinsky so much more successful than her relationship with Frieda Ziplinsky?

8. The Madagascar Plan is a historically true though unrealized goal of the Third Reich during the Second World War. Were it not for Julius Czaplinsky’s ambitions when he learned of it, which in turn led to the establishing of a Madagascar branch of the Ziplinsky family, what do you imagine Alice’s marriage to Howdy Ziplinsky would have been like?     

9. Did reading True Confections change the way you think of chocolate? Did reading the book make you crave candy? Which kind? Did you succumb? Did you gain weight while reading True Confections?

10. What would it be like to have Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky as a member of your book group?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Using a legal affidavit as a neat gimmick to tell the tale of a candy company

    Ever since she accidentally burned down the home of a classmate as a teen during a temper rage, Alice Tatnall has just wanted to be accepted as a person and not as "Arson Girl". The incident cost her a college scholarship and forced her to accept work at Zip Candies. There she meets the confectioner's heir Howard "Howdy" Ziplinsky, ten years older than her and Jewish. They fall in love and marry, but she remains ostracized by the family as the "Arson Girl". Two kids (Julie and Jacob) and working diligently at Zip Candies apparently is not enough to overcome that one transgression even though over three decades have passed.

    In an affidavit, the fiftyish Alice explains the history of the company that she cherishes. Zip's was started by impoverished Hungarian immigrant Eli Czaplinsky who developed his famous first candies like Little Sammies and Mumbo Jumbos from teaching himself English after stealing a copy of the controversial Little Black Sambo from the library. She further explains connections to a runaway slave, Nazis and the Little Susies crisis as well as her relationship with Howard who is in Madagascar while she battles his avaricious sister Irene who plans a hostile takeover in order to strip the company of its assets for her personal gain.

    Using a legal affidavit as a neat gimmick to tell the tale of a candy company and its extended owning family, True Confections is a delightful story that is at its best when the plot pulls no punches as it explores racism in the confectionary world. The cast is solid though seen through the filter of Alice who at times cleverly hesitates on her true confessions re confections. This is a deep look at a person who has found her life making candy and the company that she cherishes; especially the roots.

    Harriet Klausner

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