HarperTorch, $7.50, ISBN 0-380-82014-5
Contemporary Fiction, 2001 (Reissue)
Friendship Cake is a cliché. A beautiful cliché, but one that doesn’t really try too hard to be different from, say, Sandra Dallas’s The Persian Pickle Club or Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt. It’s a story about female bonding and friendships, add in lots of sugar and caramel, and stir in a heavy dose of small town Americana.
The characters of this story are mostly stock seen-’em-before types. The ladies of the dying Hope Springs Community Church Women’s Guild are collecting recipes for a workbook. Meet Margaret Peele, the no-nonsense, quiet widow. She is in this with Beatrice (busybody, gossip, blunt, and can’t help being rude at times), Jessie Jenkins (the obligatory sassy black woman with nuggets of wisdom), Louise Fisher (the rebel), and the youngest of them all, the inexperienced but well-meaning Rev Charlotte Stewart. Apart from Charlotte, the ladies ranged from their mid-fifties to early sixties. This gathering of recipes allows the author to give readers a glimpse of some episodes in the lives of these women.
There’s Jessi’s granddaughter’s budding romance with a white boy, there’s Beatrice’s coming on too strong for our group of women, and Charlotte’s trying to keep the church together even when the population of the town is dwindling and the people are growing older every year. Yes, there are some religious elements here, but not enough to put off non-Christian readers. And I am quite (pleasantly) surprised that the author, who is also a pastor, creates a very touching story of Louise, a sixty-three year old lesbian who remained in the closet all these years until her best friend and secret love Roxie comes down with Alzheimer’s. Her story is the most emotionally moving one here, although, Louise being a gay character just has to be the one to deal with issues like loss, heartbreak, and disease. I know, I know, but you have to admit, the use of gay characters to highlight issues like disease and death in an otherwise “human, uplifting” drama is one stale cliché by now, in books and movies.
Not exactly original, Friendship Cake however has me sniffling tears and blubbering by the last page. I know it’s corny – there’s even a recipe for friendship, for goodness’ sake – but it’s so easy to succumb. Ms Hinton writes in a nice, warm, engaging style. If she’s corny, hey, corn’s nice – melt some butter over it and yummy yum yum.