Monday, October 14, 2013

'Eat Cake' is a sweet read

A favorite book is like an old friend.  You may not be together often but when you are, it feels like you’ve never been apart. It’s one of those relationships that span time and space to supply a much-needed embrace with every encounter.  

That’s how I felt recently when I reread Jeanne Ray’s 2003 novel, Eat Cake.  More than any other book on my shelves, Eat Cake has provided nourishment and encouragement in times when I’ve felt a loss of both.

Despite its title, Eat Cake isn’t a cookbook, although Ray includes recipes for all the cakes mentioned in the story.  It’s also not a book about vampires, psychotic killers, gun-slinging detectives or alien invaders.  For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, those topics seem to permeate so many of today’s popular novels, movies and TV shows. 

Rather than taking the reader on a nightmare-inducing journey into an imaginary landscape of evil and wrongdoings, the Tennessee-based author serves up a sweet and satisfying slice of modern day life complete with believable characters attempting to overcome everyday obstacles and stresses.  Much to my delight, the 225 pages of this homespun tale are filled with humor and optimism instead of despair and sordidness. 

I remember the first time I picked up Eat Cake.  I was lying in bed next to my husband.  After only a few pages into the book, I began laughing.  When Ralph asked me what was so funny, I went back to the beginning and began to read the first chapter aloud: 

“This is the story of how my life was saved by cake, so, of course, if sides are to be taken, I will always take the side of cake.”

The main character, Ruth, goes on to explain how a class on stress reduction at the local Y taught her to visualize a place where she felt completely safe and peaceful.  While her classmates chose their childhood bedroom or a beach in Jamaica, Ruth found herself visualizing a cake, specifically “the warm, hollowed-out center of a Bundt cake.”

“It’s about being inside of cake,” Ruth explains, “being part of something that I find to be profoundly comforting.”

Comfort is definitely lacking in Ruth’s complicated home life shared with her suddenly unemployed husband, college-aged son, sullen teenage daughter and elderly mother.  When her estranged father moves in too because an accident immobilizes both of his hands, Ruth’s world begins to fall apart faster than a slice of crumb cake. 

Fortunately, a good baker knows what to do to keep the pieces together.  With a little bit of this and a touch of that, with the right combination of hard work, humor, cooperation and positive attitude, almost any obstacle can be overcome.

I like realistic books that provide encouragement and hope in exchange for the investment of a few hours of time.  I like books that make me feel better at the end than I did before I began reading.  Eat Cake may not be as deep a read as some might prefer but, like a good piece of cake, its very lightness and sweet flavor denotes quality. 

Eat Cake is the kind of book meant to be shared with others.  Over the years, I’ve given copies to family members and close friends.  Like all of Jeanne Ray’s novels - she has written four other books as well - Eat Cake is a tasty treat that will be remembered long after the last page is read.  A review in the Library Journal said, “Funny, believable, and full of surprises, this novel, like time with a good friend, is over far too soon.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment