Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender)

Overall: 4
  • Plot: 4/5
  • Originality: 5/5
  • Language: 3/5
  • Believability: 4/5
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

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.
Genre: General Fiction
Purchase Links:
Kindle US
Paperback US | UK | DE
Harcover US | UK | DE
Other Links:
author website

I came across this book while browsing through some website or other, and the concept instantly grabbed me. Here's the final breakdown:

The concept behind Bender's novel is truly unique: a little girl who can taste the feelings of those involved in the food-making process. I was surprised, therefore, when the book seemed more focused on the disintegration of her parents' marriage and the difficulties faced by her genius brother rather than the problems surrounding the main character. Told from a small child's eyes, the feelings evoked were poignant and real, and I was drawn into the beautiful destruction.

Bender's pacing in this book is fantastic. The push and pull are tangible, and it turns reading into what it should be: an all-absorbing affair. With that being said, there were a few brief moments where she suddenly jumps into the past, and it takes a moment or two for me to realize what had just happened. All of these scenes are relevant, of course, but the shift is still abrupt, even for the start of a new chapter. The lead-up to the explanation behind Joe's disappearances was well-played, and the ultimate revelation is reasonable, but it lacks the impact that it could have had due to the suddenness of its delivery.

I find myself torn in how I feel about the writing style. On the one hand, it is simplistic, and it matched very well with the mentality of a youngster. Even so, the "he said/she said" method was overly grating in some sequences, where a greater variety of verb would have been greatly valued. The story ends when Rose is in her twenties, and while there is much to be said for consistency in an author's writing, the change dispatched my assumptions regarding her word choices. The lack of quotation marks was also disorienting, as I couldn't tell sometimes whether I was reading first person narrative or dialogue.

In short, this book was a worthwhile read with a few flaws. Even now, I feel emotionally wrung out, which says a great deal for the impact that the author made with her tale. If one can work one's way past the stylistic ticks and unclear designations for speech, one will find an enjoyable story to while away a few hours.


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