7 Dessert-Heavy Books That Will Activate Your Sweet Tooth
Amy Feltman, author of “Willa & Hesper,” recommends books that will make you crave pastries, cakes, and cookies
M y debut novel, Willa & Hesper, focuses on the two titular characters as they fall in love, break up, and find themselves on parallel journeys of self-discovery. It is about a lot of things — trauma, heartbreak, traveling the world only to discover you can’t get rid of your own consciousness in a new time zone, etc. — but one thing it’s also about is a love of cake.
Although I didn’t realize it while writing initially, this book is chock full of dessert references. More than thirty references to cake flutter in these pages (a special shout out to Clementine Bakery in Clinton Hill, which sustained me for two years as I pummeled through drafts of this book).
There are reading lists all across the Internet — about serious matters, about faraway destinations to help curb your cabin fever, about female murderers and everything in between. But for those of us who love reading about dessert when we’re not actively eating dessert, where’s the inspiration? I present to you, as a glutton and literary fiction aficionado, a reading list to make you crave pastries, cakes, and cookies that may or may not symbolize your relationship’s demise.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Rose Edelstein, just about to turn nine, takes a bite of her mother’s lemon chocolate cake and discovers she can taste her mother’s emotions. Bender has an uncanny ability to deliver on surreal conceits, and as Rose’s special talent leads to difficult emotional truths, the story becomes less about magic and more about a turbulent family and Rose’s burgeoning maturity. That aside, the description of the cake is dynamite: “[I] pulled off a small warm spongy chunk of deep gold.”
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
In Everything Here is Beautiful, Mira T. Lee will throw in a small detail — about a recipe for chicken, for instance — and that detail will pop up, evolving in meaning and symbolism with each reference. Early on, Lucia marries the charismatic, older entrepreneur Yonah. One example of Yonah’s tenderness towards Lucia is by bringing her the vegan pound cake of her dreams, her favorite item at Yonah’s convenience store, which happens repeatedly over several decades. This is the last couple I expected to be rooting for, but by halfway through the book, I was totally sold.
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman
I wouldn’t say this book had me craving dessert so much as it made an indelible impression of what excellent descriptions of food can do in literature. Unnamed narrator, A., is a part-time proofreader and full-time consumer. To even get into the plot — which includes a sinister supermarket chain full of veal, a reality show called That’s My Partner!, and a cult surrounding the rituals of eating — would be a challenge here. Instead, consider the entirely chemical treat Kandy Kakes, something like a twinkie if a twinkie could represent Big Brother. “Kandy Kakes: We Know Who You Really Are.”
“A Small, Good Thing” in by Raymond Carver
This classic 1983 short story begins with a mother picking out her son’s birthday cake. Something feels off-kilter right off the bat, when the narration clinically (frostily?) refers to the birthday boy as “the child.” It’s a chocolate cake, with a spaceship and a planet made of red frosting. Without giving anything else away, this story brings the cake back in a surprising turn, and ends on a very different note than you might expect from the premise.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Speaking of classics — I can’t resist through one of my all-time favorites, Mrs. Dalloway. In one tension filled scene, secondary characters Elizabeth and Miss Kilman debate going to Clarissa’s party, over tea and eclairs. The tiny actions here are super sexually charged: Miss Kilman fingering the eclairs, swallowing the last two inches of the eclair after defiantly jutting out her chin. Miss Kilman is filled with longing: “If she could grasp her, if she could clasp her, if she could make her hers absolutely and for ever and then die, that was all she wanted.” Who among us hasn’t had an unrequited love and made a bee line for a dessert plate?
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
This novel is divided into two distinct parts. The beginning focuses on Alice, a twenty-something editorial assistant, and the development of her relationship with a significantly older literary titan. From the very beginning, this guy is wooing Alice with sweets: Mister Softee, squares of chocolate, and eventually, the delectable Blackout Cookie from Columbus Bakery. He doesn’t eat them, but delights in providing Alice with these treats and watching her eat them. (In silence. Normal.) The creep factor on their interactions is high — he compliments her by saying she “really does look sixteen,” affirms her compliance with the phrase good girl — and, as things continue to sour, Alice throws up one of these precious, forbidden cookies.
I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson
Abbi Jacobson of Broad City chronicled her post-breakup, cross-country journey in I Might Regret This late in 2018. In one memorable scene, Abbi checks into a bed and breakfast, thinking it will be invigorating and refreshing to be there alone. It’s a perfect example of the difference between your imagination and reality can be vast. Surrounded by couples, Abbi desperately wants to hide in her room and disappear — but the homemade blackberry scones (“impeccably stacked,” she imagines) are even more enticing than her desire for solitude among the boisterously in-love. (This might beg the question: do scones count as dessert? Reader, I’ve decided: they certainly do.)
Bonus: There but for the by Ali Smith
What if, instead of having dessert at a dinner party, you locked yourself in a bedroom and waited to see what would happen if you never came out? That’s the premise for this gem by Ali Smith, who takes uncomfortable group meals to an entirely new level. I hope for Miles’s sake that he had some chocolates squirreled away in a jacket pocket.
About the Author
Amy Feltman is the author of Willa & Hesper. She graduated from Vassar College in 2010 and earned her M.F.A. in Fiction at Columbia University in 2016, where she was also a Creative Writing Graduate Teaching Fellow. She has worked at Poets & Writers Magazine since 2014. She received a fellowship to attend the Disquiet Literary Conference in 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal. Her short story, “Speculoos,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016.