The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Book description~ On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother–her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother–tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden–her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them.
Like me, I’m sure throughout your life at some point, even as a kid, you wondered what it’d be like to hear people’s thoughts or be a fly on the wall. Might not be all it’s cracked up to be…especially not for Rose Adelstein. Rhe blessing is also her curse, as Rose can taste people’s feelings and emotions through the food they cook. The worst part- those feelings, emotions and secrets are of her family, among others. Discovering her curse through a bite of chocolate lemon cake made by her mother on her 8th birthday, Rose’s life would never be the same. Never again could she ignore the painful secrets or struggle of her mother, who is restless and feels that something is missing from her life though she does not know what, her father, who never really “got” how to be a Dad, and her older brother Joseph, so intelligent, he is unable to assimilate into the rest of society.
Lemon Cake follows Rose through the years and into young adulthood as she learns how to harness the surreal power she was given and try to keep her family’s inner secrets.
This book was much different than I expected. Chosen by one of my book club babes for November discussion and despite wanting to adore this novel, I couldn’t help but feeling rather ambivalent about it. Bender does a nice job building the rising action but her bizarre lack of conversational punctuation became a bit of a cumbersome distraction, and her subtlety was almost too subtle for my liking.
One of my favorite parts is when Rose learns how to find loopholes in her curse; she’s able to use the school cafeteria vending machine as a “safety” net since the foods are not handmade, but made in a factory by machines. Unfortunately, although I think Bender had a great concept for a book, she doesn’t necessarily tie up all the parts of the story as I would have liked. As the reader, we are invested in each character introduced, not just Rose. For me, the book ended much too soon; I felt as though Bender only wrote the first half of the story. In particular, I would have loved to see where Rose’s life went as a result of the the job at the school working with children.
I think there is a happy medium between being subtle in the way you write, like Diane Setterfield, and being TOO subtle to the point where you may be losing your audience along the attempt. Unfortunately, I think Bender was the latter.
I’m looking forward to hearing what the book club babes think about this one next weekend.
In progress- Burnt Toast by Teri Hatcher
44 down, 8 to go!