TITLE: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
AUTHOR: Aimee Bender
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Double Day/2010
GENRE: Magical Realism, Adult Fiction
SOURCE: Local Library
Goodreads / Author's Website
Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was definitely not what I was expecting. The title has a bittersweet air to it that really sets up the rest of the story as bittersweet is how I would describe it.
Bender's novel begins on Rose Edelstein's ninth birthday. Her mother has baked her an early birthday cake, but instead of lemon, chocolate-y sweetness all Rose tastes is emptiness and her mother's loneliness. From this point on, Rose can taste people's emotions in the food they have made. Through this skill, Rose discovers many things about those that surround her, sadness, adultery and even, very rarely, contentment.
This book was another on a long list of book's I've read lately that really focuses on the darker aspects of life. It wasn't exactly a pick me up. You've been warned. Lemon Cake was essentially a coming of age story combined with some magical realism. Rose grows up too quickly not because of outside forces, but because of her unique ability which exposes her to too much of the world's hardships at too young an age. She is not prepared to face her mother's extreme unhappiness or her brother's emptiness. She can see the cracks in her family at a formative time and it affects her entire worldview. Rose develops a sadness about her that she cannot shake throughout her coming of age years.
I think that's what got me most about this book. I felt for Rose. I wanted her to be happy, but didn't know how she could possibly find happiness in the face of everybody else's misery. How can somebody so young deal with that? It's Rose's desire to better her own life and, at times, help those around her fill in the cracks that makes this book bearable for me (I wasn't in the best mood while I was reading and this wasn't exactly the right book choice to brighten my spirits). Rose experiences all the ups and downs of adolescence, but it's heightened because of this magical tinge. It's an intriguing take on a classic story.
There are some twists throughout the book that are unexpected. Honestly, I found them to be slightly heartbreaking. I felt for Rose and her family. I really did. It's a sign of good writing. I was invested in their trials and when things went badly it hurt me as a reader. I can't say much else for fear of giving away key details, but if you do give this book a chance let me know what you think about them. I'm pretty sure you'll know what I'm talking about.
Bender is a talented writer. She combines the realistic and the fantastical and has created a story in which I was fully immersed. It stuck with me hours after finishing the book. It was a story I put down at night and woke up the next morning still thinking about.