Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe—by Heather Webber

The Glitter Globe

Magical Realism is a delicious little genre. I have a slightly scientific background and a respect for logic so it suits my tastes. It's a type of story set in a real world setting with fantastical elements and there are four or five characteristics a book is supposed to have to be called Magical Realism. For our purposes let's say it's realistic with fantastic or mythological components to make a point.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber reminds me of Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns—if it was mixed with the slightest sprinkling of the fantastical, like cinnamon atop a pie and less is more in this case.

Doctor in training Anna Kate has been left the Blackbird Cafe in Wicklow, Alabama by her recently deceased grandmother. In order to be able to sell it and get back to her medical training, Anna Kate has to work there for a couple of months. 

It's a popular cafe in a dying small town. Residents have been going there for generations for a slice of the famous blackbird pie, which is made of fruit NOT blackbirds.


At midnight exactly twenty-four blackbirds fly out of the mulberry bushes and take to the skies before settling to sing for precisely one hour. This is not normal blackbird behavior. 

Anna Kate is a descendant of the Callow women whose cosmic job is to bake the locally famous pies. She'd never been to Wicklow before her grandmother's death, but Anna Kate had known her grandmother, Zee Callow. During visits over the years, and under the disapproving eye of Anna Kate's mother, Zee had discreetly passed on necessary knowledge and the secrets to baking the magical pies. 

The magic of eating a slice of the pie is that the night after consuming a piece you receive a message from a loved one who has passed away. Sometimes they remind you to pay the taxes, sometimes it's far more. 

Anna Kate believes in her family legacy. She knows only she can make the pies work properly, and she pushes away the thoughts of what will happen to the people of Wicklow when she sells the place so she can return to medical school. 

In some ways I held a grudge against this book as I read it. You know the Hallmark movies where a career woman finds Real Love and Meaning in a small town and realizes her Big City Dreams aren't worth pursuing? I was worried it was going to be like that. 

Also, in some ways, SPOILER ALERT, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is exactly like that. Anna Kate promised her mother that she'd finish medical school but we find out that it isn't her dream to be a doctor so much as it was her mother's. I had to forgive the story because this book is about Anna Kate discovering her purpose and allowing herself to lead a life she wants in the way that will lead to her happiness and fulfillment. 

Who can argue that? I can't argue it, but deep down I'm formulating a story where a woman's purpose and happiness is found in the Big City with her Big Career and not back in her hometown, because that's a thing too, Hallmark Channel.

Yet I enjoyed Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe with its southern small town 'Bama cast of characters. Anna Kate's priorities and life changes with her SPOILER ALERT undiscovered-until-now family (when she had felt alone in the world) and SPOILER ALERT—no, no. I'm not going to tell you anymore. You have to read it yourself. Don't worry, I didn't even tell you about the Natalie story line at all or Bow and Jena, the mysterious kitchen help with a couple of big Magical Realism secrets.

If you read it, let me know what you think. I especially want to know what you think about the ever-popular Big City Dreams life versus the homey small town life story line. 

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