The Children Act by Ian McEwan is a beautiful portrayal of the nuances, ebbs and flows of love. In all too many novels, love is standard, unoriginal. There’s the falling out of love, the passion, the cheats, and the happy endings. This masterful work, however, is a far more honest, relatable, and finessed look at complicated emotional fibers.
Fiona Maye is a highly respected judge in the family courts in England. She is everything you would want in a decision-maker — thorough, brainy and responsible — while also possessing a strong moral backbone and even a perfectly timed wit. Fortunately for her career, and unfortunately for her peace of mind, Fiona’s impressive track record earns her the toughest cases around.
On a daily basis, she decides the fate of children — where they will live, how they will live, and sometimes even if they will live. In her most famous case, she has to rule whether two Siamese twins should be separated against their parents’ will, meaning one would die and the other would survive.
Though Fiona fights to remain objective, impartial and academic, the most sensitive parts of her own life are inseparable from her work. She troubles over not having children — a byproduct of her focus on career. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be “just an Aunt,” there was just never the right time. The image of an empty house after her relatives leave post-holidays quietly haunts her year-round. Once again, McEwan exercises great finesse here. It would be easy to paint Fiona’s childlessness as a great regret; instead, it’s a quiet gnawing.
Meanwhile, the deep implications of Fiona’s rulings (like the death of a twin) are impossible to leave at the bench. She withdraws into herself and away from her husband. She grows colder, more pensive and more melancholy. Her husband decides to turn elsewhere for warmth. Does this sound like a typical literary affair? It isn’t. Jack is desperate to reconnect with Fiona, to reason with her, to solve their problems. Fiona is harsh but vulnerable, cold but longing.
And in the midst of this whole mess comes a new one: a new case that involves children and death (seriously, guys, let’s not quit our day jobs). Adam is a sheltered, romantic, charismatic teenager who happens to be extremely ill. He could easily be cured with a blood transfusion, but his religion prevents it. Enter: ideology, passion, recklessness, martyr complexes, parental double-speak — and Fiona. She plunges headfirst into the case, and her personal involvement far exceeds her judicial one.
Not only is McEwan a master of beautiful language, he’s a master of deftly expressed insights. This book provokes visceral responses — I caught myself sighing dramatically and, yes, I leaked a few tears — but its thought-provoking undercurrents echoed long after I ditched the Kleenex.
In The Children Act, food acts as a portal to memories. As in life, it can be used for peace-making, and it always connects us to the ones we love. I was inspired to make something reminiscent of the holidays, something both complex and sweet, something that required care, attention and patience just like our relationships do. Pumpkin pie truffles seem to fit the bill.
PUMPKIN PIE TRUFFLES
- 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (do it homemade!)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup (about 8 full crackers) graham crackers crumbs, finely crushed, plus more for garnish
- 6 ounces dark chocolate, melted
Beat the first four ingredients with an electric mixer until very smooth. Add the sugar and keep beating. Then stir in your crushed graham crackers.
Place your bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes. This will make it easier to shape the balls. After 30 minutes, scoop out about 1 tablespoon of filling at a time and form it into little balls with your hands. Place the balls on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper.
And back to the freezer! Place your cookie sheet in the freezer for at least an hour — I’m impatient, too, but it totally matters.
After you’ve been virtuous and waited that whole time, you can place your chocolate in a double boiler. Stir over low heat until melted. Take your frozen filling balls one at a time and roll them with a spoon in the melted chocolate. Carefully place the truffle on a wax-paper covered plate or cookie sheet. Top with a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs. Repeat until you've covered all the balls.
Let your truffles cool, and then they’re ready to enjoy. But I like mine a bit more chilled, just out of the fridge. Up to you!
Store leftover truffles in the refrigerator. As if you'll have any.
Slightly adapted from The Corner Kitchen Blog