Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber (2019) is an acceptable, weight-neutral chick-lit story about family and grief, with a touch of fabulism / magical realism and romance. Set in the fictional small Alabama town of Wicklow, I thought it was unrealistic in that there were only two African-American characters (both support workers in the cafe), yet the town was described as “close-knit” by the white characters. I’m not sure that the unseen additional black people that were likely also living in the town would have the same opinion.

It centers on Anna-Kate, a young woman about to go to medical school after her mom has passed away, when her beloved grandmother, who ran a cafe in town, also passes away. Anna-Kate and her mother left Wicklow years ago and didn’t go back, until Anna-Kate is required by her grandmother’s will to run the cafe for two months in order to sell it. The other main character is a young woman raising her toddler alone in her parents’ guest house after her husband died in a boating accident, where her parents are still grieving the loss of their son years ago, who happens to have been Anna-Kate’s father, and his death the reason she and her mother never spent time in Wicklow.

The reason the cafe is unique is because there are blackbirds that roost in the mulberry trees at night, The story goes that the blackbirds will take messages to deceased loved ones, and if you eat the cafe’s pie, you’ll get a message from that loved one in your dreams.

I thought the author handled the characters’ grief well, and she steered clear of descriptions of body size for the most part (there were a couple of descriptions of a man as “big” and “strapping” with a full beard, which I took as neutral), so it would be easy for a fat person to imagine themselves as one of the characters. But, as I said before, there are only two black characters, and they are not developed much, if at all. It’s like Wicklow is an Alabama town with no black people, which I thought was unrealistic. While I’m sure the author might say that race was not the focus of the book, I think she could have found ways to incorporate anti-racist ideas instead of setting the book in a southern town, ignoring race completely and inserting two black characters as stereotypical silent “helpers” for the main character in the cafe.

It was an OK read, weight neutral, but lacking in African-American representation.

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