The Sugar Queen’s biggest flaw is that so much of the plot’s answers and outcomes are obvious from the book’s opening pages, there are no surprises, no moments where you feel the author has outsmarted and misled you. Despite that, you keep reading to watch how all the pieces come together into one cohesive story because there is nothing left since the element of surprise is long gone by the final few pages. The answers and plots final moments come together quickly, too quickly in fact, the resolution speeds by without ever building to a sufficiently suspenseful point and even as the book closes there are questions that aren’t answered and things which even in the midst of magical realism that don’t make sense.
The book centers around Josey Cirrini whose life is limited by her own fear though she uses obligation and penitence as the excuse. Her life is suddenly set upon a new course by a woman, Della Lee, who has recently taken up residence in Josey’s secret closet – a cupboard like space in her bedroom where she stores sweets and travel magazines, using food and fantasy to deal with a stagnant life. There are other characters, including a cold distant mother with a secret past, an English challenged maid that is wiser than anyone knows, a new friend who lacks the ability to make choices and of course a hosts of love interests and one bad man. The characters are all more shadow than substance, even the very bad man is so obviously slimy that none of his actions are shocking or surprising other than the way his darkness seems to inexplicably ratchet but even that is too brief to put the reader on edge.
As the book came to a close I found the most interesting story was the one from 40 years ago and my favorite character, Rawley, was one that played on the events from the past and the present, he had a small part and spoke very little, but he along with the Cirrini’s maid was the heart and nobility of a novel with much failed promise. I think it always spells trouble when a book set in the present has its moments overshadowed and outshined by moments and characters from the past. The book is part magical realism, part mystery, part love story, part drama and while it is quite readable and a quick read is isn’t nearly as good as it could or should have been.