Right from the start, we know that Alice Ziplinsky is writing her deposition in a contentious lawsuit. And in doing so, Alice readily admits that she is going to dish the dirt on the Ziplinsky family. And our Alice has enough dirt to fill a dump truck. Her promise reminded me of the words of another Alice–“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” We are privileged to sit next to this Alice, although we start to question her veracity as the story progresses.
Born Alice Tatnall, rechristened “Arson Girl,” and denied the chance to go to college, Alice applies for and gets a job at a small family-owned candy factory. For three generations, Zips Candies has made Little Sammies, Mumbo Jumbos, and Tigermelts–not exactly top-of-the-line brand names but familiar enough to evoke nostalgia and keep the company in business. Those candy names, however, are problematic. Eli Czaplinsky, the company’s founder, named each line for a character in Little Black Sambo
, which would give public relations firms fits for those same three generations.
Alice makes a real impression on Sam Ziplinsky, son of the founder, and even more so on Howard “Howdy” Ziplinsky, the heir presumptive. Unfortunately, every female member of the family hates Alice from the start, and that doesn’t change. Over the course of the years, Sam teaches Alice the ins and outs of the candy business, and she gradually supplants the rest of his family in his affections. Alice becomes the driving force behind a long-overdue updating of the company’s income stream, and on her own initiative starts a new candy line.
The story sprawls over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, incorporating mob hits, the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, and the influence of blogging on public opinion. But it is the internal atmosphere that is the most memorable, as we learn the terms and processes for running a candy factory. Alice also talks about the larger candy business, the wheeling and dealing that keep your favorite candy bars on the shelf, and the truth behind those “fun-sized” candy portions. (Her riff on Roald Dahl’s candy factory classic
will make you rethink that “children’s book.”)
If you liked Water for Elephants, you owe it to yourself to give True Confections a try. It has that same quality of giving an inside look to a subculture most people take for granted, and the drama of the outsider slowly making her way into the heart of that culture. Weber also immerses the reader in the sounds and smells of an unfamiliar place, neatly evoking in readers a “memory” of something they’ve never experienced. As a character, Alice is memorable not only for her justification of the positive things she thinks she’s done, but also for her cluelessness about some really dumb things she defends.
Check the WRL catalog for True Confections