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Book Review: Cakewalk May 31, 2010

What business does a diabetic Weight Watchers leader have reading a book that is so filled with butter and chocolate and sugar that it almosts wafts from the pages? I don’t know, but I do know that I could barely put this book down. Thank goodness for the ankle injury and the 3-day weekend that allowed me to finish  it this morning.

I loved this book, Cakewalk, by Kate Moses. I LOVED THIS BOOK so much. It’s going on my Top Ten list. And for people who have seen my house and my miles of bookshelves, you’ll know this is saying a lot.

Where do I begin? Well, for one I loved it because it brought my childhood back to me, and in the sensual food-memory way that the madeleine brought Proust back to his. Only it wasn’t anything as delicate and refined as a fancy French cookie, it was her unabashed love for 1960s junk food that made my heart beat faster. And it was the way that she described the Ding Dongs and the Baby Ruths without an ounce of embarrassment or remorse: just, this is what we ate, and it gave us pleasure. She loved the badger Frances books like I did, and especially for the food descriptions: not only the bread and jam, but also ode she sings to Lorna Doone cookies.

Kate Moses is roughly the same age as I am, so reading this book was like a tantalizing time-travel through my own life. It was shocking to squeak out, as I was reading, “Me too!” even down to a bizarre coincidence involving rubber alligator toes. Reading this book was in so many ways like a channeling of my own life.

Each chapter of the book chronicles a different era of Moses’ life, her annual moves to yet another new state, new town, new school. Early on she learns to use her baking skills as a way of making friends, or of comforting herself through some new familial trauma (and there are some doozies). Every chapter ends with some amazingly droolworthy recipe: Chocolate cake, homemade It’s-Its, homemade pink and white animal shortbread cookies (which she brought in a basket to her reading: SO delicious! and exquisite), pecan birthday cake and jam tarts. I swooned and sighed over all of these recipes. (um, except the moose turd “candies”)

Although she mentions being called “fat” by her classmates in a particularly poignant fourth-grade chapter, she doesn’t dwell on this. It’s not about that.  So many memoirs of overweight childhoods are drenched in shame and guilt, and this book was refreshingly free of guilt. Which I appreciated so much.  It’s about an often terribly painful and confusing, chaotic childhood and youth that is sweetened and soothed by the pleasure of food. It’s about food as a means of connection and community. It’s about becoming a writer, which made my heart pound as much as the cake recipes. It’s a moving chronicle of family and how people change and don’t change, about forgiveness and honesty and redemption. The writing is so, so, good, and I found myself sighing over individual sentences and paragraphs. Like this:

…we bought boxes and boxes of donuts, baker’s dozens, all different flavors. Then we drove up and down the empty streets for hours, fast past the houses of everyone we knew, past our own, all night long, in our high heels and our new high-school graduate outfits, the convertible top down and our hair flying loose and tangling across our faces, eating just one bite of each donut before flinging the rest out of the car. When there were no more donuts, we reached for our silky blue graduation gowns, pulling them out from where we’d tucked them, and we threw them out, too, letting them catch in the wind we were speeding through, sailing them out into the bright lasting night, the northern lights spraying ribbons of color above us, waving like handkerchiefs as the ship leaves its anchorage.

 

5 Responses to “Book Review: Cakewalk”

  1. Larkspur Says:

    Oh noes! as my kids would say. I’ve been reading several things about how incredibly helpful it is to go off sugar, and realizing what’s hard for me is not just the taste, it’s the home/love/ritual aspect of it. I am a skilled, puff-pastry-from-scratch, fondant-and-icing-rose kind of baker, and it is a skill set I have pretty much put aside.

  2. The demonization of sugar (for better or worse health) had made me extremely sad, so this book was very emotionally redemptive somehow.

  3. kate Moses Says:

    First, THANK YOU Foodie for the lovely review of “Cakewalk” as well as our strange sisterhood of the bite-able alligator toes…and I really appreciate that you added your response to the book on this blog. As someone who has struggled with guilt and remorse, food and weight since childhood, I totally empathize with the challenge not just of feeling some agency over one’s body but over one’s emotional and psychological responses to that body. And I also believe that Frances the Badger’s mother was right about “eat it up and enjoy it”: pleasure is a necessity of life, even if it sometimes comes in packages that some would deem unnecessary. EVERYONE deserves to simply enjoy an ice cream cone or a piece of cake with an icing rose now and then, if that’s what makes you happy. In my case, I’ve finally realized that my life would be sad without such things, and I’ve given up other stuff I can live more easily without.

    What a surprise it’s been for me to realize I get just as much pleasure from knowing I wrote something that someone else relished as I do from — dare I say it — eating a piece of cake! cheers, kate

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation! I’m always looking for good writers. Just ordered it from the library. ;)


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