Friday, January 6, 2012

THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE – Aimee Bender


A friend of mine suggested a different public library group since sometimes I come away disappointed in the local one. He goes to one in Muncie which is about 35 miles from my house. This was the December book choice for that library book group. I really enjoyed the book and the group so I may go back.

While making drop offs at the Goodwill Store it is a must to schedule enough time to go in and check out the books. One day this summer The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake attracted my attention. A colleague last year had suggested it as a good read and the book has a beautiful cover for which I am a sucker every time. The dust jacket is robin's egg blue with a nice piece of yellow layer cake with chocolate icing, mmmm. Even the title page is a lovely work of typographic art with a combination of script and type. A treasure found for $1.50!

Delicious cover, delicious read. Aimee Bender has created a book so engrossing it's hard to put down once begun. Nine-year-old Rose becomes aware of her extrasensory perception in her taste buds as she tastes the lemon cake her mother made for her birthday. As she eats the cake Rose realizes she can feel her mother's emotions and they are not what she would expect. With horror Rose realizes her mother is depressed, confused, unhappy, and has feelings of desperation. These are not things the child expects or wants to know. From that day Rose must navigate around food being careful when, where, and what she eats. She can now feel the emotions of every food preparer. Her life becomes a complicated dance around food, eating mostly prepackaged and factory prepared foods to evade the overwhelming and often scary emotions contained in the food. As her gift/curse matures she learns that food also reveals its heritage. She can tell what part of the country a farm is where eggs come from, meat may reveal if the animals were content, food handlers emotions relay to Rose if they are decent people or jerks.

Rose also has to navigate complicated family dynamics. Older brother Joseph seems to be the favored child. A boy of unusual brilliance, social inadequacy, and a strange ability to disappear. Mom smothers Joseph and battles her depression and feelings of being adrift until she settles on a course of woodworking projects. Dad is dedicated yet aloof from his family. He loves his family but has a strange phobia to hospitals and seeks security in workaholism. Rose has a crush on Joseph's friend George who appears to be the only stable person in her life. The sadness of the lemon cake is not limited to Rose's mother's sadness. The sadness for Rose is that her gift and her family so cripple her life that while her peers and friends move on to college and to young adult lives, Rose remains behind and at home.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake felt somewhat like a thriller and also like supernatural mystery. Reading it felt similar to reading a Niffennegger novel and at one point I really did feel like Joseph might be a time traveler. It is also a coming-of-age novel and one feels a true sadness for Rose while hoping and believing she will prevail in the end. One thing that was a bit of a put-off for me was the absence of quotation marks. I am never sure what that is all about. Perhaps there is some new literary movement to dispense with such and I have read many recent novels where they are not used. However, usually I can navigate through a novel like this pretty well, but this one left me pondering sometimes as to who was speaking, and often I wasn't sure if the person was actually speaking out loud or thinking. But some of the prose was breathtakingly beautiful.

One gentleman at book group did not warm up to the book and thought it contrived but the rest of us really liked it. I would read it again.





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