The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

50 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is an original. It’s just a lovely piece of magical realism, well-written in a kind of understated lyricism.

I’ve had this book on my wish list for a year. Someone recommended it to me last summer. It was one of the first books I downloaded after I got my Nook this spring. I thought maybe I wanted to read it, but I kept putting if off. I just wasn’t sure about it. A story about a little girl who can taste the emotions of the cook in the food she eats? Really? Is this something I want to read?

Yes, I can tell you now. Yes, this is something I want to read. It is beautifully haunting.

Rose, the girl who is afflicted/gifted with food psychic abilities, is part of a family that is so incredibly typically middle class, expect for the part where none of them are typical at all.

Rose’s father is an emotionally distant lawyer who insists that the family all have dinner together every night despite the fact that he does very little to contribute to dinner time conversation. He also has a habit of disappearing to work for several more hours after dinner each evening.

Rose’s brother is a genius who has only one school friend and who performs so inconsistently in school and spends so much time alone in his room that I suspected him of having Asberger’s through most of the book.

Rose’s mother — the one does most of the cooking and consequently reveals all of her underlying emotions to her food psychic daughter — has never quite found herself. She flits from one project to another, never quite satisfied. Rose only begins to understand this the day she bites into a piece of her mother’s homemade cake and tastes sadness.

If not for Rose’s ability and what we later find out to be her brother’s issues and even later find out to be the source of her father’s quirks, it might be any other family — a couple of siblings destined to fight over practically everything, a father destined to miss most of his family’s lives, and a mother destined to have an affair. Such middle class realism John Updike might have written it.

But this is not an Updike story. Tossed into the mix we have this flight of fancy in which the family’s sorrows stem from the family’s special gifts. These gifts are burdens to people who cannot shut off the overload of emotional information flowing from the people around them.

Rose’s challenge is to learn how to manage to feelings she takes in with her food. She cannot live her whole life on emotionally neutral Cheetos after all.

This is not an action-packed book. It is not a psychologically intense book. It does not have a complex plot. It is simply a beautifully done character-driven narrative with a particular sadness at its core. It is a story all its own, and those, I think, are usually the best.

1 thought on “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender”

  • What a lovely review, Sharon! I love your reviews in general, and this is the first time I have been inspired to comment. I love the exploration of gifts actually being experienced as burdens and challenges. I have seen more (in coaching) and experienced more of shifting the perspective of something being a burden or challenge, to experiencing it as a gift (often taking much time to appreciate that perspective), and I can totally get how gifts can actually be experienced as burdens. I look forward to reading the book.

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