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February 9, 2011

The Vicious Circle reads This Cake is for the Party

We headed out to the west end, somebody brought a chicken, and there was a baby (who never cried). There was also a heart-shaped chocolate cake doused in chocolate glaze, and it was for the party, and we would have it and eat it too, etc. etc. And so we sat down to talk about the book, which was Sarah Selecky’s This Cake is for the Party.

As usual, we were divided, but in a less dramatic way than we’d been with Jessica Grant’s book. Partly because Selecky’s book is a much more even collection, but too even, we decided. Our main criticism that the book was short on action, not as in car chases and explosions, but characters who showed some agency, stepped outside their inertia– and the stories we liked the very best were the stories where characters actually did such things.

The stories we liked the least were those at the beginning of the book, and we wondered if a story like “Paul Farenbacher’s Yard Sale” (which we loved, every one of us) had started the collection, would this book have been easier to embrace? The characters in the first story “Throwing Cotton to the Wind” didn’t seem fully formed to us, and who’s named Sanderson and Flip? Though this story did have a passionate defender among us, who’d read it five times in a row because she found it so moving. She found it hingeing on the moment when Anne and Flip have sex, and how the looseness of these characters allows the reader to slip into their places, this one powerful moment of connection between two unhappy people. Another of us noted how well Selecky writes about animals, and also the greatness of the line about a sound like falling potatoes.

Another criticism was that after the fact, the stories in the collection had blended together. The best exceptions were “Paul Farenbacher…” (and one of us loved the part where she leans back on the ice-cube dispenser, and the fridge starts ringing like a slot machine), and “Where Are You Coming From Sweetheart?” (and of this story, one of us remarked that Selecky had so absolutely nailed what it is to lose a mother, being in that house with the father who has no idea how to take care of you)– we loved the ending to “Where Are You Coming From…” in particular, a powerful image with so much weight to it. Though we wondered about time period– it seemed retro, but references were contemporary. But these stories, like all the good stories This Cake…,  have some weight to them, history, characters who act, and are not mere cardboard cutouts of people.

We noted the book’s strange preoccupations, with organic vegetarian food, and pyramid schemes. We loved the references to the library ball in “How Healthy Are You?”, particularly those of us who’d been to the library ball. We liked that these stories took place in Peterborough, and Sudbury. We thought there were interesting details about these characters’ work (candle making, creating organic household cleansers, etc.), but all these jobs put them at such a distance from the world– we would have loved to see someone driving a bus, or a story that took place in an office.We loved the book’s design, but questioned the blurbs– really Lisa Moore? “Ultra-lush”? And none of us found any of the stories “flat-out funny”.

Sometimes, we think, the hype of a first book raises expectations unfairly. We thought that This Cake is for the Party was a good book, a very good first book. That it’s a promising start to Selecky’s publishing career, a harbinger of greatness to come, and then we decided that was more than enough, and decided to break out the cake.

6 thoughts on “The Vicious Circle reads This Cake is for the Party”

  1. steph says:

    This book club sounds like my dream book club. And not just because of the cake! The discussion sounds intelligent and insightful.

    I haven’t read This Cake yet. I keep putting it aside for myself at work and it keeps getting sold on me. But one day.

    1. Kerry says:

      I’ve read it twice now, and enjoyed it both times.

  2. patricia says:

    …and I had two pieces of Kerry’s fabulous cake, and enjoyed it both times.

    1. Kerry says:

      Yeah, me too. And then I licked the tin it came in.

  3. “The characters in the first story “Throwing Cotton to the Wind” didn’t seem fully formed to us, and who’s named Sanderson and Flip? Though this story did have a passionate defender among us, who’d read it five times in a row because she found it so moving.”

    I love hearing bits like this. I love knowing that a story — any single story, not meaning this one in particular — that I didn’t feel was ‘mine’ simply because I loved it so much, can rightfully belong to another reader who does love it. (Many other readers, no doubt.)

    And I’m so glad you had cake. How could you not!

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