A delectable comedy about an imploding social media star, an Italian bakery, the treachery of fame, and the pink-frosted pastry at the heart of it all.
YouTuber Sabine Rose is a star about to go supernova. Her baking channel attracts millions, her production team agonizingly crafts her every moment, and her agent has nearly landed her a television series. But Sabine’s rise to superstardom needs a final push, and she has the perfect idea to get herself there: a well-documented visit home to her family’s bakery.
When Sabine and her chronically underappreciated producer, Wanda, arrive in Thunder Bay, the planned family reunion is quickly lost in chaos (and, as Wanda sees it, social media opportunity). Sabine’s father, the Rose family master baker, has just died. And he’s left behind a locked briefcase containing the secret pastry recipe that has made him a hometown legend.
On the cusp of going viral, Sabine finds herself unlocking the dark truths of her father’s past. Self-medicating one glass—and one handful of pharma-ceuticals—at a time, can she drag her fledgling celebrity into the big leagues before ever-loyal Wanda, sensing betrayal, turns the tables on her? Will the popular pastry and the family secrets it holds fall into the wrong hands? Or will it provide the salvation Sabine so badly needs?
Piped full of heartache and told with razor wit, The Sugar Thief is a skewering of contemporary narcissism and an ode to families that leave (almost) everything behind in search of a brighter future.
About the author
NANCY MAURO is the author of the critically acclaimed debut New World Monkeys and most recently The Sugar Thief, a novel about a secret pastry recipe that upends the lives of an entire immigrant family.
Nancy grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where her Italian-Canadian family owned the bakery that invented the wildly popular (and equally enigmatic) Persian pastry. She now lives in New York City with her husband, children and a rolling pin or two.
Excerpt: The Sugar Thief: A novel (by (author) Nancy Mauro)
The passengers on Flight 908 fear death, but after an hour of sitting in the non-reclining seat by the toilet, I'm warming up to the idea. The man beside me has dropped his head down to his lap, his tender pink scalp visible through his hair. Everyone else seems to have resigned themselves to that eerie, heart-pounding silence that precedes catastrophe. Outside, turbulent winds batter the plane, and a bouncing wing-tip light is the only indication that anything exists in the grey sky. But when I turn from the window I spot something even more terrifying.
I see her. Sunglasses on, hair wrapped in a gold lamé turban. She's charging down the aisle like one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Turbulence shuttles us back and forth but Sabine grabs whatever's in reach to steady herself: a seat back, the overhead bin, a ponytail. I've got my phone out anyway, so I just tap the record button and then shrink down in my seat.
Because she wasn’t keen on paying extra to choose seats in advance, we've been split up. She's in the front, I'm in the back, and Paul is a few rows ahead of me in the window. She stops at his row and I watch her lean across some poor woman in the aisle seat to shake him. I can tell by the force she's using that he’s asleep. Of course he's asleep, Paul isn't bothered by things like our impending death over Lake Superior.
In addition to the side-to-side beating we're enduring, the twin-prop plane suddenly loses altitude. My backside rises right out of the seat by the inch or so of easement the seat belt allows. Shouts of nervous laughter fill the pressurized space. I manage to hold on to the phone as the pilot says something in a garbled baritone over the intercom. Sabine is still on her feet. But a flight attendant is making her way down the aisle toward her, gripping headrests as she goes, her face screwed into an angry knot.
"Ma'am, you absolutely have to sit down!" Sabine ignores her.
I can see the top of Paul's head now as he straightens up.
"Are you kidding me? You're asleep?" Sabine says to him. "Get a camera on me now."
I mean, she's right. As her social media director, I know she’s right. This experience has viral potential. And it's kind of my job to find the viral potential in everything Sabine does. I angle my phone between the seats. Five million YouTube subscribers aren't checking in just for her pastry recipes. They want behind-the-scenes content. And what better content than Sabine Rose, the dark-eyed knockout, perennial bad girl and pastry chef prodigy saying her last goodbyes, convinced she's about to go down in a fiery plane crash?
Except she doesn’t seem the least bit frightened.
"You need to return to your seat, immediately." The flight attendant has reached her now, slightly out of breath. "This is highly dangerous."
Sabine turns to her. The turban makes her a full foot taller than the other woman."What I'm doing is highly dangerous?"
The flight attendant nods her head."That’s right, now please—"
"What's highly dangerous is what the two fucking morons in the cockpit are doing!"
I grit my teeth. Swearing doesn’t play well.
Not that I'm going to use this footage. This will definitely go in the Not for Public Consumption file. It's important to have boundaries.
The job at hand is to turn some of her emotional volatility into content. And there's plenty of instability to choose from. Sabine is prone to blow-ups and breakdowns. She overreacts, can't multi-task, won't just grin and bear it. It's my job to keep her on track, and it turns out I might have been doing this job too well.
I try not to go there constantly, but my thoughts keep winding back to it. The Deal. Well, the pending deal. These thoughts are often illogical. For instance, right now I'm wondering, will a plane crash help our deal go through?
"Come, there's an empty seat beside me." Sabine has turned back to Paul. "Don't bring your phone—I could have done that myself. Get the camera out!"
Like I said, Sabine's right. It's the reason we're on this plane in the first place. She hasn't been home in close to ten years, but we decided she should attend this big family celebration weekend. Get on camera with her father, a local baking legend. She needs to appear sympathetic, rooted, legitimate, a scion of culinary genius.
Where Sabine goes, Paul and I go.
I see him grip his video camera and try to get out of his seat. It's a cramped little plane and he hits his head on the overhead bin. The good thing about this display is that it's diverted many people's attention from the turbulence. Sabine is already making her way back to the front of the plane, grabbing onto passengers' shoulders as she goes.
Things have gotten intense since we reached critical mass online. We're on the cusp of taking this internet fame and translating it into hit streaming series fame. From the minute I walked into the new Toronto corporate Netflix lobby, a Times Square–esque experience of oversized screens streaming endless content, I've weighed every move as though it were a cog in the complex machine-learned equation that decides whether our show will be green-lit. Will they make an offer?
It depends. Sabine's not perfect, but they've given us notes on how to get her there. How to make her ironclad, so that when she gets uploaded to the big Netflix algorithm their investment pays off. They like Sabine. They like her stats. But the show was my idea. I wrote it, pitched it, sweated over it. Yes, it relies on her celebrity status, but I scripted that too.
My worry is the Netflix people don’t like me.
It's the way they address me as an afterthought. In the pitch meeting, they brought Sabine her sparkling water and gave me the same, assuming I wanted what she wanted. This is not just petty observation; in any workplace it's hard to become autonomous when your main role is viewed as that of support staff.
This is also not paranoia, although no one could fault me for it if it was. Some ugly things have happened to me. I'll admit, I've been to the bad place. Nearly didn’t come back.
So barring pettiness and paranoia, what I'm left with is plausible concern. Concern that the development team is subconsciously taking their cue from Sabine. I’m a vehicle of sorts for her. A necessary evil in ways that are not obvious to anyone outside our little huddle of three. I didn't set out to be indispensable, but for the past three years that's exactly what I’ve been. What we've been to each other.
And Sabine may have had enough of it. That makes me panic.
More than any turbulence.
"Sir, you can’t leave your seat!" The flight attendant, having lost one battle, now tries to step in front of Paul.
For a moment I think he's going to sit back down. Instead, he tugs down his T-shirt, which reads Dim Sum and Then Some and features a dancing dumpling, then squeezes past the woman.
"She paid for my ticket," he says, because he knows which side his bread is buttered on.
We both do.
INT. AIRPLANE – DAY
SABINE BUCKLED IN DURING HEAVY TURBULENCE. COOKIE PACKET OPEN ON TRAY IN FRONT OF HER.
Welcome back to Sweet Rush where we are on board a pretty rough flight over Lake Superior! I'm just praying that after devoting my life to great baking, these terrible airline cookies are not the last thing I ever eat!
CU: SABINE GRIPS ARMREST AS PLANE SHUDDERS.
We’re on our way from Toronto to Thunder Bay, Ontario—that’s way up north for our American friends—to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of my family’s bakery! Check in with us at Sweet Rush throughout the weekend. We’ll bring you some of the best pastries in the world, made by my own father, including the legendary Persian.
PLANE BANKS AT STEEP ANGLE–HER DRINK SPILLS.
That is if we survive! (NERVOUS LAUGHTER) Now, if you're thinking—Persian? Is that even something I should be eating?—stick with us. We'll take you behind the scenes of my father's top-secret recipe . . .
ANOTHER BOUT OF TURBULENCE, CAMERA DROPS. SCREAMING FROM PASSENGERS. PAN ACROSS SEATS AS PEOPLE TRY TO REGAIN CONTROL BEFORE WE RETURN TO SABINE.
. . . and learn how the strangely named Persian pastry put my family's bakery on the map. So, roll up your sleeves and get sweet!
PRAISE FOR THE SUGAR THIEF:
"The Sugar Thief is as deliciously tart and layered as the legendary pastry at the centre of the story. I devoured it with gusto."
—Sarah Knight, bestselling author of Calm the F*ck Down
“The Sugar Thief is an ingeniously plotted story about immigrant families and YouTube stars that is stuffed with knockout sentences. Nancy Mauro offers the literary equivalent of a show-stopping pastry with her surprising and satisfying novel.”
—Kevin Chong, author of The Double Life of Benson Yu
“The Sugar Thief is no mere confection: written with comic brio, Nancy Mauro’s heartfelt novel is also a trenchant examination of our algorithm-chasing mass culture and the knotty allegiances and legacies of family and home.”
–Teddy Wayne, Whiting Award-winning author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
PRAISE FOR NANCY MAURO:
“Nancy Mauro is a writer of rare and refined talent. . . .With her flawless prose she opens bare the hearts of her characters, their vain desires and everyday tragedies.”
—Anthony Swofford, New York Times bestselling author of Jarhead and Exit A