Cover the Butter
by Carrie Kabak
Published by Penguin
352 pages, 2005
Slow Spiral Home
Reviewed by Mary Ward Menke
If we are the sum of our experiences, Kate Cadogan is a negative figure. The daughter of an overbearing, narcissistic mother and a milquetoast father, and the wife of a self-absorbed sports fanatic, Kate finally decides to subtract herself from the equation the day she discovers her teenage son has "partied-hearty" the night before, nearly destroying the home she had painstakingly restored. Her husband, Rodney, is too engrossed in a televised three year old soccer game to pay attention to her ranting. Kate opens a bottle of wine and, vowing never to sleep with Rodney again, falls asleep, catapulting down a tunnel where she awakens in 1965.
Cover the Butter recounts the ensuing journey through Kate's personal history and the events that have brought her to this life-changing resolution. The first novel by Carrie Kabak is a heart-rending, yet frequently amusing look at relationships and the power they have over individuals. Like the rope in a never-ending game of tug-of-war, Kate is pulled between her own desires and those of the people closest to her. In every case, she is the first to let go.
Kate's mother, appropriately named Biddy, is a control freak who uses every means at her disposal to maintain power over her daughter. From choosing Kate's first bra ("...spirals of stitching, three sets of hooks, powernet panels, and longline, too...") to cornering her in the bathroom and shoving her hand inside said garment to retrieve a forbidden love note, Biddy's desperate need to run her daughter's life is firmly established. Her husband, Tom, is also a victim. While he lovingly appeases his daughter's craving for sweets by bringing her chocolate, he is unable to satisfy her real craving -- that of being acknowledged and valued. In arguments between mother and daughter, Tom is too weak to defend his daughter and always takes his wife's side.
Kate has a couple of things going for her: her friendships with Moira and Ingrid and her relationship with her paternal grandparents, Mamgu and Griff. They seem to be the only people in Kate's life who see her as a human being and not something to be molded to suit them.
"Cover the butter," is the instruction Biddy gives Tom every evening after dinner, just before they light up their cigarettes. The story takes place in the United Kingdom, where the author was born and raised. As a result, some of language used in the book will take readers on the other side of the pond a while to get used to. (It took me a few minutes to realize that a "suspender belt" is what we in the States refer to as a "garter belt.") This gentle culture shock, however, is worth the acclimatization efforts. Cover the Butter is a lovely tale well told.
Kabak writes with delightful description that makes the reader feel as though they are part of the story. The emotions Kate feels are well-expressed, although her doormat persona becomes irksome. There are several points, especially in Kate's adult life, where the reader wishes they could smack her and tell her to get a life. One has to wonder why it takes her so long to realize she has to stand up for herself when it's so obvious no one else will. | August 2005
Mary Ward Menke is a contributing editor to January Magazine and the owner of WordAbilities, LLC, providing writing and editing services to businesses and individuals. Her work has been published in The Toastmaster, Dog Fancy and Science of Mind magazines, in the Suburban Journals (a weekly St. Louis community newspaper) and on STLtoday.com.