"Quirky" perhaps best describes Leslie Miller's writing style. Several years ago, someone applied that descriptor to the sense of humor revealed in my blog. At the time, I didn't know if it was a compliment or a pejorative. I still don't know, but now I understand what might lead a reviewer to use the term. It is a good, vague word to use when your reaction is neutral or so mixed that it is impossible to wildly favor or to disapprove a piece of cake – I mean writing. I am leaning toward liking Let Me Eat Cake, but am often enough confused or not comprehending, so I wonder about it and its writer.
Let Me Eat Cake could be as dry as some of the pastries Miller describes (after all, I think it began life as an academic work, a thesis to win an M.F.A. from Goucher.) However, the chick-lit touches, embarrassing self-revelations, and occasional dips into the roiled stream of the author's mind and memories are cake-saving icings, if sometimes tasteless. Aw, it's really sweet, I guess. Just behold all the cutesy chapter titles (both in word and decorative images, like the word CAKE in the title on the cover – probably the publisher's fault, not the writer's.)
Because I usually read the back matter first, I thought Let Me Eat Cake would be an in-depth review of the history of the confection. The extensive references were the first clue about the genealogy of the book. "This looks like my thesis bibliography," I thought. Then I noticed most items were Internet citations. I was impressed until I realized some sources were unreliable – Wikipedia and anonymous blogs. I mean, what kind of primary source is "Old Foodie"? For this she got an M.F.A.?
Maybe not. Maybe the resources I question are a later, hipper addition for commercial publication. Do they still say "hip"?
Miller's book is the first I have read that makes flagrant reference to using the Web and email (what, no SMS?) for research. The book is designated "Cooking,” but it is not a cookbook and contains few recipes. With a subtitle like A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt, you might expect detailed baking instructions. No, it is the story of an unresolved case of substance abuse. The addictive substance happens to be sugar in the form of frosting on cakes. She eats cans of frosting, minus the cake. But you can't write a book just about cake frosting, right?
Perhaps reflecting the sugar high Miller must live on, the book jumps about in time, space, and topic. It is disorienting and disorganized. Some chapters are only one page in length. The table of contents offers no map, being organized into eight sections called "Tiers" and 45 chapter titles like "Losing Isn't Everything" or "Dessert.” When isn't cake dessert?
The tidbits about cake stuffed between layers of Miller's mind are interesting for anyone who likes to cook. If it weren't for the excellent citations and references in the Notes section, this wouldn't find space on my shelf of cookbooks. Maybe I'll keep it in the office instead, as reference material on, well, references. My plans for writing a book about authentic cooking are solidifying like margarine in the fridge.