by Jeanne Ray, contemporary (2003)
Pocket, £6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6806-6
Eat Cake falls short when compared to this author's previous books (Julie And Romeo and Step-Ball-Change are both keepers for me). It has the hallmarks of this author's heartwarming brand of simple yet honest way with depicting people and relationships. Her characters are middle-aged but not necessarily wise, and Eat Cake is about middle-aged Ruth Hopson's journey to self-discovery.
First, her mother comes in to live with the Hopsons. As if the rebellious teenaged daughter Camille isn't a handful enough. Her husband Sam loses his job. Then comes her mostly deadbeat father to move in, the man having broken the fingers of both his hands, and Ruthie's mother - the ex-wife - is not happy at all. Soon Sam and Daddy are getting along, with Daddy encouraging Sam to "pursue his dreams" and "think outside the box" (in this case, thinking outside the box may mean squandering what's left of their money to buy a boat). Ruthie always bakes cakes to escape, so she bakes a little more often than usual.
Eat Cake should find its perfect audience in me. Was it just last year when my husband resigned from his job, just when I was forced to get out of my retirement and get another job thanks to the economic crunch? Ruth's feelings about her husband's actions really hit a chord when I am concerned. Jeanne Ray is an excellent author in that she knows how to portray very real behaviors and emotions in her books. Some of the best scenes of this book actually comes from Ruth's fanciful dreams of escape from her increasingly crowded madhouse by living inside one of the cakes she bakes. It sounds better than the way I put it. In a way, I really relate to Ruth in this. Mothers, fathers, husbands, kids - sometimes I wonder what I must be thinking when I didn't just pack up and run away, really. But in the end, they're still the ones we love, flaws and all, and that's the inspiring message of this book.
The really big problem I have with this book, however, is that Ruth comes to terms with herself not because she chooses to, but because everyone around her makes her decisions for her. It is very difficult to imagine that Ruth has never thought of using her spectacular skills at bakery to support her family. But even once this plan comes to fruit, thanks to an African American Mary Sue, Ruth just stands there as everyone around her starts making plans. Her mother has a plan. Her daughter thinks of the name of the business ("Eat Cake"). Ruth just stands there and wonders whether she can do this. The one moment she can shine, she breaks down and has to be dragged out of her pity party, and this is just a few chapters before the last, mind you. In the end, the Hopsons get their happy endings because the Mary Sue brings up the idea and everyone else pushes Ruth into making every move.
While there are moments in this book that I find really inspiring. However, the heroine's passive nature never really allows her to be anything more than a dull brown cow that happens to bake cakes very well. I find myself dissatisfied with the happy ending more than anything because the Hopsons never actually work for it. This is supposed to be Ruth's story, but she doesn't make any important decisions and act on them. As a result, this book is truly a disappointment in every way that counts. It's still a good book, but I've read so much better from Jeanne Ray that Eat Cake just doesn't seem good enough no matter how objective I try to be.
Oh, and all those lovely recipes in the US edition? They're gone in the UK edition. Bah.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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