Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

Not even a month ago, I read an article suggesting written word replacements for cancelled television shows.  In addition to being an avid reader, I have to admit that I love a good television show as well.  At least, one that has the same qualities of the books I enjoy: an unpredictable plot and multi-dimensional characters.  One such show, Pushing Daisies, fell victim to the writer's strike a few years back.  This show was a brilliant, colorful fantasy about a pie baker with a supernatural gift.  The characters were delightful, the writing was witty, the visuals were stunning.  Seriously, if you have not seen it, find a copy immediately.

My child-like adoration of Pushing Daisies of course meant that when the article suggested The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender as a fix for those missing Daisies, I had a library copy of the book in my possession within a week.  I read it in one day.

The story is about Rose Edelstein, a young girl who, just before her ninth birthday, discovers that she can taste the story behind the food that she eats.  For example, her mother's lemon cake cries out with an emptiness and longing that she hides well from her family.  As Rose develops her taste, she can taste the specific factory the food was processed in, the type and location of the chickens from which the eggs came, the mood of farmer who picked the vegetables.  For a nine-year old, at first this is overwhelming and frightening, particularly as she learns things about her family that she had no desire to know.  Rose equates it to unwittingly reading the diary of anyone who has had a hand in the preparation of the food she eats.  Rose's gift/curse leads her to discover her mother's affair, the insecurities of her friends, the stiffness of her own brother.  In time, she discovers her brother has a skill of his own, which ultimately leads to his disappearance.

Bender presents the story with a whimsical tone, yet, just as beneath the sweetness of the lemon cake lies despair, beneath the quirky premise, there is the heartbreak of a broken family.  Rose's eyes are opened to her mother's lifelong search for fulfillment; she begins to see the struggles of her father.  Bender describes the taste of emotions so vividly that is does not seem quite as fantastic that Rose is tasting them at all.  Bender's writing could be describes as sparse.  She does not add in plot for the sake of plot.  Each word seems to have a purpose.  Because of this, there are some parts of the story that are never quite complete.  Other readers may complain about this open-ended style, but, for me, it fit.  While the plot is engaging and keep  you reading, it is not the star.  The stars of the story are the emotion, the characters, the depth.  

If you are paying attention, this story will move you.  Perhaps you will see some of the emotions Rose tastes in yourself or in those around you.  If nothing else, the mystery surrounding her brother should keep you reading until the end.  You may not be satisfied with the ending, at least, not if you were hoping for a detailed explanation.  Yet, the ending is appropriate to the book.  It reminded me almost of the ending of LOST, another great television show.  The plots are nowhere close to each other, but the feeling is.  Many people were angry with the ending of Lost, because they did not get their questions answered.  The writers, however, maintained that they told their story.  For them, and for the attentive viewer, it was never about the details of the plotline.  Rather, there is joy in not knowing all the answers because you can imagine them yourselves.  You walk away from the story with possibility and an understanding of the characters, of the human experience, that you did not have before you began.  So it is with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

Pages: 292
Date Completed: July 4, 2012


  1. I find that you did good solution when you selected this topic of the article of yours here. Do you mostly compose your entries by yourself or maybe you work with a partner or a helper?

    1. I write it all on my own - which means some entries are better than others! All my own thoughts, though. Hope you're enjoying them!