Title: Black Cake
Author: Charmaine Wilkerson
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date Published: February 1, 2022
You can find it here: Bookshop.org
In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, and themselves.
Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?
Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.
That was a surprisingly absorbing, page turning, addictive story! Based on the synopsis I truly had no idea what to expect and basically went in blind with little expectations … honestly, the best way in my opinion.
Black Cake could easily have been a complete miss for me as it plays into a storytelling method that I typically detest … slowly revealing itty bitty pieces at a time, cloaked in vagueness. Every single character is ever so slowly exposed, layers are peeled away, connections made in pieces at a time, constantly cycling back and forth between “now” and “then” sections and bouncing among character perspectives like an omnipresent fairy. But Charmaine Wilkerson has plotted and connected these desperate pieces, and little reveals, expertly.
The short chapters kept the pace flowing, but at times, felt a little truncated. The “then” characters were much more realized, vivid, and intriguing. Their challenges and triumphs greater, more interesting and arresting, that just wasn’t matched as well in the “now” characters. Overall we never know anyone too deeply, and maybe that’s part of the message. Because Black Cake’s central theme is just that – how well can you truly know someone? The secrets we keep, how they define us, divide us, and maybe bring us together. But ultimately Black Cake is a novel about family – found and blood – and all the dramas, challenges, strengths and hurts that word entails.
A little bit history, a little bit mystery, a whole heaping of family conflict, Black Cake is novel that clips along at a great pace but I wish a greater balance could’ve been struck between the complexity of the “then” sections to the somewhat entitled, overwrote “now” sections.
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