1058 Cheesecake and Castro’s confidant
In Search of a Happy Ending
by Rosa Jordan
Martinsville, VA: Propertius Press, 2020
$18.95 (U.S.) / 9781716707919
Reviewed by Ron Verzuh
Cheesecake and Castro’s Confidant: Rossland novelist offers musings on relationships, the environment, and social justice issues
“People love happy endings,” says a character in Rosa Jordan’s third novel. But “they will gladly trade truth for a happy ending.” Jordan seeks both in her writer’s search, allowing her to share insights into the multiple social problems of our times.
The Rossland, B.C., novelist and local historian accomplishes this through the development of the characters attending a Vancouver writers’ group. In the process we learn about their writing projects, their beliefs, their problems, and some hints at what their futures might hold.
Hector and Golda Rosen are the Jewish couple that founded the group. The octogenarian Hector is the curmudgeonly leader who mentors the younger wannabes to write better stories. Meanwhile, Golda produces a cheesecake of unique style and content for each meeting.
Hector has had a lifetime of experience as a left-wing journalist, including a stint with the revered New York newspaper PM. We learn that communist witch hunters once harassed him. “That nasty J. Edgar Hoover tarred him with a brush so red that we were no longer safe in the city,” explains Golda. “Nor could Hector get anything published after that — at least not under his own name.” Shades of Dalton Trumbo, the famed Hollywood Ten member who, while blacklisted secretly won an Oscar for his screenwriting.
Eve, the 40-something narrator, is a feminist and a left-wing activist. The former technical writer joins the group because she plans to write a book about Celia Sanchez, the woman who fought alongside Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution. Other members of the group choose topics that introduce environmental concerns, animal rights activism, and social justice advocacy.
But Eve has a secret. She has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She eventually learns that others in her group have health challenges of their own. Animal-loving poet Lisette, for example, also has a terminal disease. Dog rescuer Raynee, a nature writer, nurses her and forces a recognition of Lisette as a poet. Golda is much more than a cheesecake maker. Other secrets surface as the story unfolds.
Hector’s hopes of discovering a breakthrough writing prodigy lie with young Chelsea. Ambitious for fame as an investigative journalist, she is prepared to defy all the conventions to achieve her goal. Pi, her shy boyfriend, an Asian-El Salvadoran, acts as her enabler with his contacts in the Asian gang world in the United States. Her expose of the gang appears in a San Francisco paper, but she disappears. Along the way, we learn that Pi is not what he seems.
Scott, a retired university professor, is in the group to write a memoir but also because he has fallen for Eve. The two of them become lovers and team up to drive the story to its conclusion. Eve shares her medical secret with him, but it does not deter him from loving her. She moves into his apartment and they proceed to assist troubled members of the group, Chelsea and Lisette in particular.
Aside from a sprinkling of clichés and some overwritten passages, this is a well-told story, teeming with imaginative twists and turns that signal Jordan’s mature understanding of human behaviour.
My one experience with a writers’ group exposed human frailties, arguments about appropriating voice, and unabashed competitiveness. Jordan’s group is no different. Perhaps it is a common trait. But Jordan has masterfully turned her imaginary group into a story of depth and caring in which she examines difficult circumstances and the courage required to deal with them.
If the book’s title hints at an uncertain future for each group member, it is a foreshadowing of the surprises we will encounter as Jordan guides us through their lives in search of a story, an ending … with the help of many delicious cheesecakes.
Ron Verzuh is a writer, historian, and documentary filmmaker. Editor’s note: Ron Verzuh has recently reviewed books by Vera Maloff, Peter Nowak, David Laurence Jones, Gary Steeves, Ian Haysom, John O’Brian, Scott Stephen, Christine Hayvice, and Keith Powell for The Ormsby Review.
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