Warning: Jeanne Ray's novel Eat Cake is so much fun that it easily lends itself to silly baking metaphors like "sweet as chocolate" or "smooth as icing." Don't worry, though. We won't use those cliches here. To do so would not do justice to this book, which although boisterously funny is also a poignant account of the increasingly common struggle Baby Boomers face in caring for aging parents.

Ruth Hopson has her hands full. In addition to a moody teenage daughter, her mother moves in with the family after a robber breaks into her own home. Ruth manages her stress by picturing herself in her favorite place, which happens to be the center of a warm, freshly baked Bundt cake. When that doesn't do the trick, she actually bakes a cake, her other favorite stress-buster. The Hopson household is never wanting for a fresh almond apricot pound cake or lemon chiffon.

But then the unthinkable happens. Actually, two unthinkables: Ruth's husband Sam loses his job as a hospital administrator, and her long-absent father breaks both arms and asks to move in while he recuperates. Caring for two elderly parents is hard enough, but the hardship is compounded by the fact that Ruth's father and mother have barely spoken in decades. And her suddenly unemployed husband decides he wants to take time off from his job in order to "find himself." Since physically flinging herself into a cake is not a realistic possibility, Ruth does the only thing she can think of to keep the family afloat: she attempts to sell her incredible cakes to local restaurants. After years as a fulltime mother and homemaker, starting her own business is a daunting—make that terrifying—step.

Jeanne Ray, author of the bestsellers Julie and Romeo and Step-Ball-Change and mother of acclaimed novelist Ann Patchett, deftly evokes the bittersweet parent-child relationship, acknowledging the alternating pangs of love and annoyance that make it so difficult and so ultimately worthwhile. In Ray's able hands, Ruth is never a caricature of a frazzled housewife—she is a capable, complicated woman with whom one yearns to share a piece of cake and a good laugh. And that makes Eat Cake as sweetly satisfying as meringue. Sorry, we couldn't resist.

 

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