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Book Review by Augusta R. Scattergood

Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray
(Shaye Areheart Books/Random House, 2004)

In Jeanne Ray’s third book, Eat Cake, a 51-year-old housewife parlays her lifelong passion for baking into a family business. The couple in Ray’s first book, Julie and Romeo, play out Shakespeare’s tragedy with a twist. Instead of star-crossed young lovers, they are grandparents in love. And in Step-Ball-Change, Ray writes a domestic tale about, among other things, a father and mother, her sister and her daughter, all locked in a wedding planning dilemma that threatens family sanity.

Until she turned 60, Jeanne Ray worked as a Registered Nurse in Nashville, collected stories and never dreamed of following in her famous novelist daughter’s footsteps. Ann Patchett, author of the prizewinning novel Bel Canto, encouraged her mother and served as her mentor after she began writing. In a recent interview, Ray remarked, “The hardest thing in the whole process was gathering my courage to show the first 150 pages of the story to my daughter Ann.” Three best-sellers later, Jeanne Ray still counts her daughter as one of her biggest fans.

The cast of characters living under one roof in Eat Cake range from Ruth’s angst-ridden teenager Camille to her mother Hollis, who moved in after her own house was robbed. Just about the time Ruth’s husband loses his job as a hospital administrator and decides to follow his dream of building wooden boats, Guy, the father she’s known only sporadically, falls down a flight of stairs and breaks both wrists. His career as a jazz pianist sorely compromised by the injury, Guy moves in to recuperate. Hollis, estranged from her husband since Ruth was two, is not happy about this arrangement.

All these folks under one roof—the perfect equation for family disquiet. Years ago, when Ruth perfected stress management at the Y, she learned to meditate herself into the comforting center of a cake. Now when household stress surpasses her ability to manage it, instead of meditating, she bakes. Soon she’s turning out more cakes than she knows what to do with. Enter a friendly, helpful physical therapist to rehabilitate Guy’s wrists and taste Ruth’s divine creations. Before you know it, Jeanne Ray neatly ties up her 225-page book (plus a dozen delicious cake recipes) as the whole family pitches in to get the cake-baking business off the ground.

And that’s the trouble with Eat Cake-- too many neat loose ends tied up. Jeanne Ray’s tales of life after 60 are worth reading. Just start with Julie and Romeo, move on to Step-Ball-Change, and don’t worry if you’ve had enough fluff before you get to Eat Cake.


Gusty Russel Scattergood, a native Mississippi Deltan, is a retired librarian. Read more of her book reviews at USADEEPSOUTH by clicking here: USADS BOOKS


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