Friday Food Fiction — The Cake Therapist

The Cake Therapist
Judith Fertig
Berkeley, 2015

There are many genres of food fiction that we’ll explore on this site as we go along, but the most prominent are the food-themed mysteries and food-themed romances. Cookbook writer Judith Fertig makes an attempt at combining the two in her first novel The Cake Therapist.

After a failed relationship in New York, baker Claire “Neely” O’Neil returns to her hometown to set up her own bakery. This happens quickly and immediately, as does Neely’s renewal of all her old friendships she left behind.

Neely sets up shop and starts offering baked goods with an extra dash of psychic advice, because she can associate people with flavours and feel their emotions, as you do when you run a bakery (joke). Fertig laces these stories, along with Neely’s own relationship problems (should she stick with the solid, handsome and local Joe, or be lured back to NYC by her charming pro-athlete husband?) with flashbacks to a mystery about a pair of local sisters. It sort of comes together in the end but the historical mystery and the modern day romance have nothing to do with one another and it’s not a smooth melding of stories.

The food bits — vivid descriptions of cakes being made and decorated — are gloriously detailed, as would be expected from a cookbook author, but they have almost nothing to do with the rest of the story other than the fact that the protagonist runs a bakery.

Secondary characters are flat and often cliched (the troubled, black-clad Goth girl who helps out at the bakery, for instance, is written with such a patronizing tone that it was almost uncomfortable to read), and do little to propel the story other than to tie the two distinct story lines together.

Fertig wrote a follow-up book called The Memory of Lemon that is supposed to tie up the loose ends of The Cake Therapist, but the description makes it sound even more complicated and uneven than this title, so I don’t know if there’s enough draw for me to track it down.

The Cake Therapist gets points for some gorgeous food descriptions but overall, it should have had a bit of editorial therapy to tighten up plot lines and fill out one-dimensional characters. Fertig is a good writer, but this is really two or maybe three stories in one. Like an over-decorated cake that needs fewer sprinkles and a slightly better sponge.

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