Charmaine Wilkerson’s contemporary novel “Black Cake” is an engaging story of betrayal, lies and secrets. However, at its heart, the novel reveals that identity is not just shaped by our own unique experiences but by those we love. Wilkerson sets up an intriguing story deeply rooted in family and tradition that you can’t help but keep reading.
The story begins in California in 2018 with two siblings, Byron and Benny Bennett, sitting in their late mother Elenor’s attorney’s office. The attorney reveals that their mother left behind a cryptic, eight-hour audio file and a frozen traditional Caribbean black cake with instructions to eat it when the time is right. Here’s the problem: it’s been eight years since Benny had a falling out with her family, and six years since she missed the funeral of their father, Bert. The siblings must find their way back to each other after years of anger, misunderstandings and separation to piece together the untold stories their mother reveals posthumously. What they discover challenges their perception of their mother, causing Byron and Benny to question if they ever really knew Eleanor, or themselves.
The novel shifts from the past, where Eleanor’s message begins, and the present, where we view the reactions of Byron and Benny. As the siblings listen to their mother’s message, Eleanor tells her children that the first story they need to know is about a girl named Covey. Told in multiple perspectives, the novel goes back in time to an unnamed island in the Caribbean where Covey lives. After Covey’s mother abandons her, she is left with her gambling, alcoholic father, Lin, and the family’s helper, Pearl; Covey’s boyfriend Gibbs and her best friend Bunny also support her as she navigates growing up on the island. When Lin’s gambling finally catches up with him, he puts his daughter in an unforgivable position that results in an unresolved murder and the loss of his daughter. Unbeknownst to Byron and Benny, there is an unexpected connection between Eleanor and the characters in her story that is slowly revealed throughout the novel.