The Kitchen Baby by Angela Carter, 1985
The magic trick:
Combining serious topics and class criticism with a light, comic tone
One of my favorite movies of the last decade or so is the Sarah Polley documentary from 2013, Stories We Tell. In it, Polley attempts to track down the true identity of her biological father. It’s a pensive look at how people construct their own narratives and how truth only occasionally intercedes. Look it up on the Netflix channel, if you haven’t caught it.
Now then – “The Kitchen Baby” also presents a narrator sifting through the threads of his autobiography attempting to ID his biological father. Serious stuff, really. What’s remarkable is how light Carter is able to keep the story. It’s actually downright funny. The food motif throughout helps. The narrator’s earnest charm is always likable. And the ending is a happy one. All the while, as the story floats by with its airy tone, we’re also getting a pretty strong subtext of social commentary. The story has its cake (or in this case, lobster soufflé) and eats it too. And that’s quite a trick on Carter’s part.
Then, just as she bent over the range to stir the flour into the butter, a pair of hands clothed tight around her waist. Thinking at first it was but kitchen horseplay, she twitched her ample hips to put him off as she slid the egg yolks into the roux. But as she mixed in the lobster meat, diced up all nice, she felt those hands stray higher. That was when too much cayenne went in – she always regretted that.
And as she was folding in the toppling contents of the bowl of beaten eggwhite, God knows all what it was he got up to, but so much so she flings all into the white dish with abandon, and… “To hell with it!” Into the oven goes the soufflé. The oven door slams shut. I draw a veil.
“But mam,” I often begged her. “Who was that man?”