The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert
Review by Emily Faison
By the end of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, my mouth was watering for a fluffy slice of cake. Amy E. Reichert anticipated my craving, including the recipe for the title-famous coconut cake as a bonus at the end of the novel.
Just like dessert, where The Coincidence of Coconut Cake lacked substance, its sweet lightness hit the spot. Our heroine, Lou, owns a fledgling restaurant, unbeknownst to her love interest, Al, a food critic with the power to become the villain with one harsh review. The grumpy food critic meets sunny chef plot could be the next blockbuster romantic comedy, from the love interest’s dark secret down to the exasperating self-imposed lack of communication (“No work talk!”) that could have resolved 90% of the conflict before it began. The plot bounced along with few surprises, exactly meeting reader expectations for a quirky romance.
The romance’s tension relies on Al’s secrecy from Lou, even as their relationship progresses. While mystery created electricity in the earlier stages of their relationship, the straightforward conflict stretched somewhat thin towards the end of the novel, leaving me more exasperated than eager for resolution. Lou’s ex-fiancé, Devlin, who should have merely served as a catalyst to get the plot going, puzzlingly shows up a few more times during the novel, needlessly drawing out his and Lou’s relationship and prolonging resolution.
From the pushy allusion in villain Devlin Pontellier’s name to sweet, elderly Gertrude and Otto’s comparison to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the novel offered little depth for its secondary characters. However, the cast serve their supporting character roles well, continually pushing the reader back to the main love story developing between Lou and Al. One sidekick I found myself drawn to was the bearded and rumpled newspaper style editor, John, whose ironic break between his profession and appearance adds edge to the novel’s generally conventional romantic style. As Al vents his romantic woes to his coworker, John’s cheerfulness tempers Al’s perpetual grouchiness, adding a touch of balanced snark to the upbeat romance.
With a cast of characters that include a food critic and a kitchen full of chefs, food is of course central. The descriptions of Lou and Al’s shared meals left me feeling like a connoisseur, and the thrill of Lou’s restaurant gave me a new appreciation for the dining industry. While I appreciated the foodie theme, a few of the many food-based scenes veer towards awkwardness. Lou’s narrated contemplations while mixing cake batter one morning read like an extended fortune cookie:
“Ingredients in baking were mixed in a specific way to create a specific result–a lot like relationships, Lou thought. If people didn’t blend well together, you’d never get the outcome you wanted.”
In fact, we get a whole scene of Lou’s inner musings. No romcom is complete without lonely apartment scene, and in the movie version of this novel, this is the self-pitying, yet still charming, voiceover monologue. As the heroine shuffles around her apartment, washing dishes and dusting, she debates the benefits and disadvantages of the two male love interests, leaving her feeling “like her apartment–a little tidier on the surface, but still a mess underneath.” While Lou needed to process the novel’s events, the reader doesn’t need a recap of Lou’s emotional state.
In lieu of Lou’s extensive self-reflection, the novel would have benefited from more scenes between Lou and her best friend, Sue. The friendship is such a fun relationship that a scene exploring Lou’s uncertainty about Al and Devlin would serve the same purpose as Lou’s self-reflection chapter, but with the added benefit of revealing a deeper relationship between these best friends.
As is typical of romcoms and beach reads, the writing is smoothly self-effacing, letting the reader fall right into a summer fling along with the main characters. The novel’s setting ought to earn Milwaukee tourism bureau royalties, as Lou and Al explore a summer’s worth of festivals and custard stands. While Lou takes resistant Wisconsin resident Al on an “education of all things Milwaukee” tour, sampling the best breweries, cheese, and museums, readers find themselves mentally planning next year’s vacation.
Despite misgivings about the too-drawn-out conflict, I found myself rooting for Al and Lou as the novel continued. Admittedly, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake doesn’t seem to aim at any lofty literary goals, but you’ll definitely want to toss this novel in the beach tote.
Emily Faison is a graduate student at Florida State University, where she writes about YA authors and YouTube.