Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)
“. . . if you want all of Amy Thomas’s excellent suggestions, you can exercise adult discretion, skip the memoir, and go straight to the back of the book where she has listed all the sweet spots in both New York and Paris. Sometimes it’s just best to skip the meal and go straight to dessert.”
When we were children, the only way to get to dessert was to first eat a meal and clean our plates. Sometimes, though, not even the promise of something sweet could get us to eat food we just didn’t like.
Amy Thomas, a self-described sweet freak, has set up a similar condition in Paris, My Sweet. If you want to discover all the best places to indulge your sweet tooth in Paris and New York, you will first have to slog your way through her tedious memoir about her bifurcated life as an expat in Paris trying to choose between two cities she loves.
It isn’t that Amy Thomas isn’t likeable; she is. It is just that her story isn’t written in a sufficiently funny or compelling style to make us want to care about her. If only she would stick to what she does best, which is writing about sugary treats.
Ms. Thomas really knows her desserts and she has without question uncovered a treasure trove of destination spots to sample all manner of sweets in Paris and New York. When she writes about food, you get the sense that you are in good hands. This is how she describes the carrot salted-caramel cupcake at Pichet Ong’s bakery, Batch, in New York:
“The cake was so fresh, I could tell that it had only recently cooled from the oven. Shreds of carrot and hints of cinnamon gave the batter accents both spicy and savory, which were more complex than the plain chocolate or yellow cake of other cupcakes. The frosting also wowed me with discernible flavors: the delicately bitter taste of coffee extract and the tang of caramel. Then there was a lime cream-cheese filling hiding at the center: not exactly tart or sweet, but wholly unexpected and the most perfect complement to the cake and frosting. A dusting of Malden sea salt heightened all of the flavors. Happiness erupted from my tongue, and washed over every bit of me to the tips of my toes.”
Are you salivating yet?
Yet as good as she is at describing food, it is when she writes about her own life that the book becomes a bore. Suddenly, the solid sophisticated writing she employs to convey food experiences becomes girlish, superficial, and, well, undergraduate.
Here is how she describes her new friend, Melissa, after they went to see the Tom Hanks movie Angels and Demons: “I knew I had my partner in crime in all things cheesy, dorky and American. Between Melissa and Isa, I felt like I had hit the friend jackpot in too-cool-for-school Paris.”
She describes a first date as “pretty good. It ended with a heavy make-out session.” And more than once she refers to “dragging her fat ass” somewhere. For someone who idolizes the works of Hemingway and The Lost Generation, you would think she could come up with better prose than that.
This book could have been something as good as Patricia Well’s excellent Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, only limited to all things sweet. Imagine a book that would guide you to all the best patisseries, boulangeries, and chocolatiers of Paris filled with beautiful photos of delectable confections and that, like Food Lover’s Guide, would include a few simple recipes for the home cook game to take on a French dessert. Now that would be a useful book to set you up for your next trip to Paris.
Still, if you want all of Amy Thomas’s excellent suggestions, you can exercise adult discretion, skip the memoir, and go straight to the back of the book where she has listed all the sweet spots in both New York and Paris.
Sometimes it’s just best to skip the meal and go straight to dessert.