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Reviews of Midnight Snacks, White Apples and Dear Mr. President

By Richard Hunt · September 26th, 2002 · The Fine Print

Ah, delicious indulgence. Midnight Snacks; 150 Easy and Enticing Alternatives to Standing by the Freezer Eating Ice Cream from the Carton by Michael J. Rosen and Sharon Reiss. It's impossible not to be won over by this collection of sweets and tasty bits to be savored when it's dark outside. Everything about this witty book works, from the title to the concept (we all succumb to the munchies every now and then) to the phrasing of chapters, and most importantly, to the recipes themselves.

The authors confess up front that they sought to "find dishes that respond to the impulsive craving or the impatient pang of hunger" and require minimal preparation. Then they organize their menu of delectables by time, starting at 10:15 p.m. then running in 15-minute intervals through 2:30 a.m. -- because you know how hard it can be to make a decision when you're tired and hungry -- and then starting up again at 5:30 a.m. for the after-hours club hoppers, or simply those in search of a little gastronomical gravity. The chapter titles also give you a peek into their joy in selecting some of their favorite foods: Slumber Party Time; Last Bites; Nightcapping; Too Darned Hot; Crumbs in Bed; Late-Night Rehab; and finally, Dawn's Early Light.

Of course the just desserts in a cookbook are the recipes themselves, and on this final and crucial front Midnight Snacks scores big time.

Virtually every dish has at most five or six steps to creation, likewise an equally small number of ingredients. Ranging from balsamic dip to campfire apples to mashed potato pancakes to many, many more, the coup de grace is that paging through the choices generates a "rumbly in my tumbly" as Winnie the Pooh used to say. All in all, it's a wonderful blend of nostalgia-infused sweets and wild adaptations to currents tastes that you'll find yourself creating a grocery list so that you're fully prepared for when the sun goes down. With Midnight Snacks what you really wish for are sleepless nights and full cupboards.

Oh, guilty pleasures. White Apples by Jonathan Carroll. For every free moment in the day, there are at least 100 different things you could be and probably should be doing. But finding a brand-new Jonathan Carroll available out in the world, bar the door, turn off the phone and the tube -- the next four hours are going to be spent in the company of one of the most imaginative minds writing today.

A bestselling author in Europe and the East, Carroll is, in the words of Pat Conroy, "a cult waiting to be born" here in the States. His storylines and characters are so polished and well rounded that there's no fabulist feel in terms of rough edges or obvious departures from reality. Carroll also cut his chops as a ghost script doctor so he knows how to feature the story that claims center stage and appropriately bows at curtain's close. So all the mechanics are there, and invisible to the reader...which leaves the delicious clash of wild characters, semi-existential plot twists and dreamy locations (Paris, Vienna, Krakow and anywhere else gothic and grand).

No one can do justice to the particulars of Carroll's work in a single review, but here's a tease: When Chaos shows up in human form as Public Enemy #1, the romantic couple at the heart of the story must journey back and forth from passionate embrace to beyond death and back to save their love, their unborn son and the world at large, in that order. It's a great roller coaster ride of philosophical "what-ifs" bound up in a very smooth and readable story.

Uh-oh, scary literary. Dear Mr. President by Gabe Hudson. These short pieces bristle with an eerie sense of foreboding which our modern world fuels in equal measure. Hudson is a very adept and terse short story writer, so the brevity natural creates a ticking tension. Then he laces his tight mind games with visceral human conflict. It's Tim O'Brien writing about Desert Storm instead of Vietnam. Plus you need to add a dollop of Vonnegut, Mailer, and Heller for black humor. What has injected this collection with a breathtaking element of Jeanne Dixon-like omniscience is that while the President of the title story is Bush, it's Bush Senior. But the villain is still Hussein, and the fighting still takes place in the rugged deserts of the MidEast. What's worse, in this new era of nasty PCB redux (Powell-Cheney-Bush, but no less lethal than the chemical acronym) even with eight years in-between, we haven't learned a damn thing about the evil heart of armed combat and how it destroys all involved, no matter how tangentially. This is great stuff -- it's a literary Dr. Strangelove meets the King of Hearts, and all the mental patients are wearing fatigues -- but not for the weak of resolve and outrage. ©



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