Because Revenge is a cake best served…
…after a bad breakup. Or such is the theory of Lelani, the heroine of the book I’m about to review: Revenge Cake, by Skyler Mason. I’ve been able to obtain an advanced reader copy of this novel on NetGalley, for which I am incredibly grateful.
As always, this review might contain spoilers, some safely hidden behind a wall of white text, some others that could be extrapolated. Furthermore, this book includes possible trigger warnings such as drugs and alcohol abuse, and several sex scenes. That said, let’s begin!
Revenge Cake gave me a lot of the same vibes of Normal People by Sally Rooney, but although I have found many similarities between Marianne and Leilani, there are also a lot of differences, the most important being that Marianne swipes through life apparently uncaring, while Leilani is in fact terribly afraid of living and, most importantly, of failure. She is a control freak because of her anxiety, and when things escape from her tight grip, she spirals down. Hard. Ativan and alcohol are her poison of choice, and they are indeed a quick and extremely unhealthy way to cope with life. As the book shows though, there is no way to keep the addiction under control: sooner or later it will be too strong and it will ruin your life.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I relate to Lani. In particular, I relate to not being able to move forward because things get scary or overwhelming, or with the awful feeling of being dead/not wanting to die but feeling my departure is imminent. What I definitely don’t relate to is how mean she is. We’re not talking about your average social ineptitude here; she’s borderline abusive toward her boyfriend, from telling him he looks dumb to making him feel small most of the time. As Logan points out in one of their conversations, she often gaslights him, pretending to know him better than he knows himself.
On his part, Logan is clearly someone who gets a high from being mistreated. Moreover, he falls in love all the time and is always ready to replace the
ghost of the relationship past old girl with a new one, possibly when he is still in said relationship. He might be kind and caring, but he has so much relationship baggage at such a young age that I’m not sure I would even poke him with a stick from afar. Looks aside, what is to like about him? What interesting personality traits does he have, looks and huge cock (as Lani points out) aside? And why does he fall for Lani if not for the challenge of pushing her boundaries further and further away until he gets the whole package? Or, as he says, her with a ring on the finger and pregnant belly.
Interesting characters? Check. I can see them having this unhealthy on-again, off-again relationship for years, despite the sugar-coated ending and the promise of change on both parts. They could easily have one of those unhealthy love stories à la Catherine and Heatcliff, where they tear each other down way more than they lift each other up. They both are toxic people, and I love it. Give me more characters in love despite how wrong they are for one another. In my opinion, this is the kind of stuff that creates nice and compelling conflicts, if you haven’t noticed until now. It generates food for thought and strong opinions, which is part of what makes a story not easy to forget.
Did you know that there are two schools of thought in dentistry? Some dentists strongly believe that teeth tend to move back to their original spot, and others think that they keep moving all our life. In both cases the end result is exactly the same: once you’ve fixed your crooked teeth, you’ll have to wear a retainer to keep them in place. Basically, no matter how strong the opinions are, the outcome remains unchanged. This is incredibly similar to how storytellers view the plot vs characters issue: we have those who believe a story needs to be fresh and original at all cost –and nope, unpronounceable names don’t make a story original– and those who’d rather work with fresh ways to twist already existing plots. Hey, that’s the reason why tropes and archetypes exist, after all.
My take on this issue is that we only get a limited number of possible plot combinations, and what matters the most is how a writer uses them. This is why characterization is so important to me, and this is why I liked Revenge Cake so much. This novel explores a failed relationship and the need for revenge it causes. Not the most uncommon plot ever, but the characters and their decisions make more than up for it. I liked how focused Lani was on making Logan hurt for his misdeeds. I mean, this girl’s dedication is admirable. I enjoyed how thick Logan was, and how it took a lot for him to admit he was freaking wrong. And a jerk. And I liked the corollary of characters around them, from Logan’s sister to the sweet (and definitely better suited for Lani, but hey, who am I to complain) Dean.
I liked Skyler Mason’s writing style: the book has a great flow, and not once I felt like I could get bored of what I was reading. I didn’t even hate either the multiple POVs nor the time jumps, both of which generally are a big no for me. The plot was linear enough that I always had a general idea on where we were and where we were heading. At about 65% of the book I got so curious to know what was going to happen next that it took me a lot of willpower not to jump to the last pages and spoiler myself the ending.
To sum it up, Revenge Cake is a solid 7.5/10 in my opinion. Despite the heavy topics addressed in this novel, this is a light and yet interesting read, indeed the kind of book I would give as a present to my friends. Maybe not after a breakup though.