As much as I was enjoying Born To Run, I was also reading a little something on the side. Sometimes I do that when I’m reading a nonfiction book – I keep a light novel around for mental breaks. This time my book-on-the-side was Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray, because I enjoyed Calling Invisible Women so much. I went looking for more from her when I returned that one to the library. Apparently she has a few books that are quite popular, Julie and Romeo in particular, but I find it difficult to resist a book about food, so I chose Eat Cake.
This had a similar feel to Calling Invisible Women. It seems that Jeanne Ray takes some of her inspiration for her characters from her family, as there are some parallels between these two books, but there are enough differences to safely say that these are not autobiographies disguised as novels. They are fiction, and fiction is often drawn from life, which can make for very realistic writing. In this case, that’s exactly what Ms. Ray has accomplished.
The author cares about her characters, and writes them into life with love. They have their flaws, but they are ultimately forgivable ones, and each gets his or her chance at redemption. There is a decided lack of nastiness in this book. There is no infidelity, no cruelty, just normal human interaction – the ups and downs of relationships between people who really do love each other deep down. It’s all very down to earth and comforting, even when people are behaving badly.
Eat Cake takes place at the point in time when everything seems to come crashing down on the Hopson family – poor health, traumatic events, unemployment, bad news all around – and soon, too many members of one family end up trying to coexist in one house.
The biggest trouble-makers of the equation are the estranged parents of Ruth, the narrator. Due to Ruth’s husband losing his job, there is no financial way for her to help each of her parents without having them stay in her home, but they have been separated since Ruth was two, and cannot stand each other. Not only that, but Ruth does not even have a memory of what it is like to have both of them living in the same place at the same time. Any other issues that come up are made more delicate and explosive by the presence of these well-meaning but difficult house guests.
Ruth’s method for dealing with stress has always been to bake. She prefers making cakes; they are her happy place, her comfort zone. As the tension in her life escalates, so does the numbers of cakes that Ruth turns out. She bakes in the wee hours of the morning to deal with her insomnia, and her family is exasperated by the sheer amount of it that they are expected to put away each day. Even though these cakes are clearly masterpieces, described in tantalizing detail, Ruth’s family is all caked out.
Finally, someone makes the suggestion that perhaps the cakes could be not just her way of managing her emotions, but a very plausible way of managing the household’s finances. This idea, as it is put into motion, somehow starts to pull the family together in a surprising and wonderful way. Everyone finds a way to be useful, and they each begin to see the wisdom in patching up formerly ailing relationships.
Seeing Ruth realize the possibility of turning a passion into a means of providing for her family is inspiring, and the way it ties them all together is heart-warming. Reading Eat Cake is a very similar experience to actually eating cake – it is joyful and fun, comforting and satisfying, with a lingering sweetness. I recommend both.