Cakewalk: A Memoir
Cakewalk: A Memoir
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From the author of the internationally acclaimed Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath comes a funny, touching memoir of a crummy—and crumby—childhood.
Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Kate Moses was surrounded by sugar: Twinkies in the basement freezer, honey on the fried chicken, Baby Ruth bars in her father’s sock drawer. But sweetness of the more intangible variety was harder to come by. Her parents were disastrously mismatched, far too preoccupied with their mutual misery to notice its effects on their kids.
A frustrated artist, Kate’s beautiful, capricious mother lived in a constant state of creative and marital emergency, enlisting Kate as her confidante—“We’re the girls, we have to stick together”—and instructing her three children to refer to her in public as their babysitter. Kate’s father was aloof, ambitious, and prone to blasts of withering abuse increasingly directed at the daughter who found herself standing between her embattled parents. Kate looked for comfort in the imaginary worlds of books and found refuge in the kitchen, where she taught herself to bake and entered the one realm where she was able to wield control.
Telling her own story with the same lyricism, compassion, and eye for lush detail she brings to her fiction, coupled with the candor and humor she is known for in her personal essays, Kate Moses leavens each tale of her coming-of-age in Cakewalk with a recipe from her lifetime of confectionary obsession. There is the mysteriously erotic German Chocolate Cake implicated in a birds-and-bees speech when Kate was seven, the gingerbread people her mother baked for Christmas the year Kate officially realized she was fat, the chocolate chip cookies Kate used to curry favor during a hilariously gruesome adolescence, and the brownies she baked for her idol, the legendary M.F.K. Fisher, who pronounced them “delicious.”
Filled with the abundance and joy that were so lacking in Kate’s youth, Cakewalk is a wise, loving tribute to life in all its sweetness as well as its bitterness and, ultimately, a recipe for forgiveness.
there either, and we weren’t allowed in the barn, where Pa kept wooden barrels filled with shards of broken glass and galvanized tubs of rusty metal and paint-peeling duck decoys and ammunition, the sinister raw materials of his homegrown experiments and distressing hobbies now that he was retired. He’d nailed up a bleached ox skull over the wide barn doors to keep us out, two staring white billiard balls glued into its eye sockets. We weren’t allowed in the little parlor off the dining room, a
lot of credit and no little appreciation. My dad had made terrible errors as a parent, but he’d acknowledged them and asked for my forgiveness and struggled to correct them, and he’d become the father I could rely on when I stumbled. I knew that his failings as a parent had been a result, ironically, of his greatest fear—of not living up to his responsibilities to us. Maybe it would only be a cheesecake, only my happiness, but I wanted to repay my dad even a little bit for all those years of
tell us. You could learn kindness and responsibility, and, most convenient for parents who would rather approach the topic of sex education from an oblique angle, you could learn all about the miracle of birth through your instinctively compliant animals, especially if you didn’t bother to have them neutered or spayed. A genius at instigating, my mother wasn’t known for her follow-through; besides, she liked the idea of growing your own. We’d already experienced the miracle of a litter of three
jumping up and down, grinning and holding their winning Easter eggs and ribbons. “It’s us! It’s us! We’re on the news!” my mother cried. “See, I told you!” Billy and John and I were jumping up and down again. We weren’t disgraced—we were famous! We were on the news! We couldn’t wait to get back to school on Tuesday. “Just stay with the tour next time, okay?” my dad groused, somewhat mollified since the news had not reported that there had been a crook in the White House, and she was his wife.
was devastated. Sweaty and crying in her red bandana, her black hair curling in wisps around her face, she crouched on the garage floor, leaning over our poor good dog, our fair Elaine. My mother sat on the floor and sobbed, blood drying to a crust on her bare forearms, the tragic heroine of her own frustrated life. Every person in the house felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another