CW: sexual assault, childhood marriage
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson reminded me of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty yet is incredibly unique, emotional, and gripping. In Black Cake, siblings Byron and Benny meet to receive an inheritance after their mother, Eleanor, died. Benny has been estranged from the family for years. Byron and Benny inherit a black cake that entails their mother’s ingredients of survival, love, and independence. They learn about the intricacies of their mother’s life as they grieve.
Most of the chapters were no more than five pages. I found that detail to be interesting. You learn just enough about the characters amidst the story in breaths. Each chapter carries a closing. In the prose, you also learn enough about the characters to not question what you read but not long to know more.
Chosen family is a frame in the novel, particularly for Benny. There is an awkwardness between Byron, the older sibling, and his sister, Benny. Byron is grappling with being a Black man in his work in Ocean Science. His thoughts are an internal monologue, a dramatic irony. Benny is a young person who is understanding her sexuality, which drove her to leave home in the first place. They grew up in relative wealth. Their upbringing is a testament to the life their parents provided them, especially the tribulations their mother faced.
Families carry the reader to places including London, California, and the Caribbean. I appreciated the flow of locations in the timeline of the story. Food is a pivotal blessing in the book. Black cake is traditional in the Caribbean. It continues the uniqueness of Wilkerson’s writing in her debut novel and seems an appropriate read during Caribbean Heritage Month, which we celebrated last year with a special box.
Black Cake is a beautiful reflection of life’s choices, decisions that have no foreshadowing, and loving ourselves. Wilkerson’s writing is crisp. She gave Eleanor’s life layers. There is little to no judgment about what she does throughout her life. The plot is executed smoothly. This book could have been an epic 400-page novel. That is where the greatness of the novel will endure. Wilkerson ensures that every character is full on the page.
I am going to read more books about Black surfers.
Thank you, Ballantine Books, for sending Feminist Book Club a copy of Black Cake.