Think off-the-wall, think totally weird, think Harriet the Spy meets A Confederacy of Dunces, and there you have it — Rabbit Cake. The rabbit cakes, of which there are many as this novel proceeds, were once a family favorite, made by sleepwalker/biologist Eva Rose Babbitt for her family.
But beautiful Eva drowned one summer night, leaving behind two daughters and a husband, all of who develop different their own peculiar coping mechanisms.
Precocious ten year-old Elvis (named so by Eva) takes on sleuthing in a big way, trying to discern whether her mother’s death was an accident or suicide. She also aims to finish the scientific tome her mother was writing about animals’ sleep behavior.
Rarely does Elvis cry. Instead she charts her progress using a grief chart her therapist gives her. She steps into the role of family caretaker big time, for both her father and sister Lizzie seem to be falling apart.
Her father Frank, owner of the largest carpet store in Alabama, takes to wearing Eva’s old lipsticks and donning her silky robe. He also adopts a parrot whose voice mimics that of his deceased wife. How did that happen, you ask? Because Eva had a long-running affair with the pet store owner and that is where the parrot used to live. Soon Elvis finds out about other risqué lollygagging her Mom did in the years before her death, oh my…
Back to coping mechanisms — eldest daughter Lizzie develops an eating disorder. She overeats whilst sleepwalking, having inherited her mother’s cursed genes. Sometimes Lizzie gets violent. Elvis does everything she can to shadow her sister, but eventually Lizzie must be sent to a psychiatric hospital. When she does return home, she takes on a new coping mechanism of baking 1,000 rabbit cakes in order to get into the book of Guinness World Records.
Thank goodness narrator Elvis finds volunteer opportunities at the local zoo. There she can continue her animal research and find the acceptance much missing elsewhere in her life. Her eighteen months of grief work and crazy events at home take her to age twelve when there is another death in the family — that of their beloved dog, Boomer.
Oh, how Elvis cries and cries. She wonders if she should start a new grief chart. When her Dad suggests getting a puppy, Elvis tells him that is healthy to be depressed when someone you love dies. She has come a long way towards understanding that death never makes sense and that “you just have to do the best you can with what you have left.”
If zany, droll and absurd are flavors you have yen for, sit right down to a plate of rabbit cake. These are no ordinary cakes. In the Babbitt tradition, they are three dimensional rabbits standing up! And when you cut into the midsection, they leak red jam. Tragicomic Rabbit Cake will make you laugh and then make you ask yourself why you are laughing. You won’t be able to stop reading or laughing yet again.
Keddy Ann Outlaw
A librarian for nearly 30 years, Keddy is also a veteran reviewer for Library Journal. Formerly an art major, she’s now busy making mixed media collages, prints and assemblages, and posting as “The Lone Star Librarian” on her website, Speed of Light.