In every kitchen, there is at least one cooking utensil that means more to its owner than the food they cook with it. Maybe it’s a humble cast-iron skillet, called into Saturday morning omelet service, or a pineapple-shaped cutting board inherited from an old roommate who makes the best guacamole. In my mom’s kitchen, the unsung hero is an antique mixing bowl – orange outside, white inside – that bakes five decades’ worth of macaroni and cheese, according to my grandfather’s perfect recipe. . Some families have crystals and caviar; Ours has Pyrex and Elbow Noodles.
In Charmaine Wilkerson’s brilliant, vibrant, second-chance debut novel, BLACK CAKE (Ballantine, 400 pages, $28), an opaque plastic measuring cup holds more than ounces, cups, and milliliters. For Benny and Byron Bennett, grown siblings forced to reunite by childhood, that measuring cup represents all the love their mother, Eleanor, poured into the signature dessert which she learned to bake on the island where she grew up. It would be – you guessed it – black cake, a “moist, humous” confection, “basically a kind of plum pudding passed down to the Caribbean by colonists from a cold country.”
Eleanor made cakes for Christmas and wedding celebrations, even burying her husband with a slice of cake. Before her death, she placed a small cake in the freezer, along with a message for Benny and Byron: “I want you to sit together and share the cake when the time is right. You will know when. She also left a voice recording that was distributed by her attorney to her children. One could argue that this isn’t the most original narrative device, but I found it irresistible, right from the attorney’s careless management of the proceedings.
Wilkerson approaches her plot like a mad chef, taking ingredients from all over the world, slicing and dicing them without leaving them, tossing characters and palm leaves and a few drops of rum into one. pot and let it all boil. She doesn’t measure, she stares, like confident cooks do, and she won’t hold your hand as you learn your way around her kitchen.
Instead, you are indulging in a soup of family secrets, big lies, great loves, bright colors and strong smells. You will meet a pair of young swimmers yearning to row to escape the constraints of their homeland; a father who is backed in favor of his daughter’s future; an “ethnic food guru” with questions about her own background; the parents regret their cold reaction to the child’s most personal revelation; and a mother who has lived so many lives, it’s hard to keep track of where it ends and another begins.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/01/books/group-text-black-cake-charmaine-wilkerson.html Your mother is dead. Now she wants to tell you her secrets.