Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore

I always hesitate to say that I loved a book or movie but I think I loved this book.  Just back in print after 50-some years, Chocolates for Breakfast is a sexier version of The Bell Jar and Pamela Moore parallels Sylvia Plath in that she is also a young woman in a rough marriage tortured by depressive bouts and eventual suicide.  Pamela Moore touches on many of the same coming-of-age themes of other young adult favorites like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  In Plathian fashion, Moore killed herself at the age of twenty-six, eight years after Chocolates for Breakfast was first published in 1956.

The risque novel begins with fifteen-year-old Courtney Farrell holding an argument with her boarding school roommate Janet Parker, whose hobbies include lounging in the nude and getting kicked out of schools.  Janet is arguing that Courtney is too involved with one of the female English teachers who tutors the bright and bored Courtney in the evenings.  Janet tells her that the other girls are starting to think Courtney has a crush on Miss Rosen.  Courtney denies it but does seem to find her relationship with Miss Rosen very important, so much that she goes into a depression when Miss Rosen says Courtney is no longer allowed to visit her.  Courtney leaves Scaisbrooke for her actress mother's trendy apartment in Hollywood and then on to New York City where Courtney departs from her childhood quickly.

Reading the book feels as luxurious as the title sounds.  Cocktail parties, dates with older men, and sleeping in til early afternoon fill the novel.  Courtney's life as daughter of an actress mother and a rich father means decadence to the point of surrealism.  What struck me about Chocolates was Moore's voice.  She was seventeen when she wrote it, eighteen when it was published, so Moore was writing in the moment.  She wasn't looking back and remembering how she felt in her transition from child to woman; she was in that change.  She still wasn't sure how everything would end up for her, but she imagines for Courtney a hopeful and happy ending.  Some scenes could be criticized as cheesy and highly romanticized, but I had to smile in appreciation of the too-perfect scenes because that is exactly what a seventeen-year-old girl would write.

There are obviously a great many differences between Chocolates and Bell Jar.  Moore's novel is not told in the first person, and although we are offered a lot of clues about what Courtney and occasionally other characters are thinking, it is certainly not the "I just stepped into the mind of a crazy girl" experience that Plath gives a reader.  Whereas Plath is very raw in her descriptions of depression and suicidal thoughts, Moore romanticizes such things right alongside love affairs, champagne for breakfast, and fancy dinners.  With Esther in The Bell Jar the reader feels as though she knows what led Esther to want death.  With the characters in Chocolates for Breakfast, we are only looking in on their oversexed, scotch-drenched teenage lives and can only guess what they are truly feeling.

For reasons unexplained to myself, I loved this book.  Maybe it's because the review where I learned of it billed Chocolates as a lost classic, and I was eager to be a first to appreciate it in its rediscovery.  Maybe I just love the sound of chocolate.  Or maybe I have a fascination with coming-of-age stories. Whatever the reason, if you loved The Bell Jar you will love Moore too.

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