I’m not usually a fan of magical realism, but as a huge Aimee Bender fan, I couldn’t wait for this book to come out. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake centers around Rose Edelstein, who discovers her unique gift just before her ninth birthday: she can taste people’s emotions in the food they have prepared.
Before her “gift” manifested itself, Rose was a carefree girl who thought her parents were happily married; after taking a bite of the birthday cake her mother has baked, Rose is filled with an acute sense of her mother’s hollow emptiness. She begins to taste emotions in everything she eats; as she gets older, she forms a routine of eating processed food that’s been mostly untouched by human hands in order to protect herself from the burden she carries. Still, there is no feasible way for Rose to protect herself from the unhappiness and dysfunction of everyone in her family.
I loved parts of this book. The first half is where Bender is at her best. Her descriptions of all the things Rose tastes are intriguing:
The cream held a thinness, a kind of metallic bumper aftertaste. The milk–weary. All of those parts distant, crowded, like the far-off sound of an airplane, or a car parking, all hovering in the background, foregrounded by the state of the maker of the food.
So every food has a feeling, George said, when I tried to explain to him about the acidic resentment in the grape jelly.
I guess, I said. A lot of feelings, I said.
However, the book was kind of a letdown in other aspects. While Bender is undoubtedly a talented writer, parts of this book needed more work. The second half of this book was disjointed. When Rose tastes that her mother is having an affair, for instance, she’s completely okay with it, even though her father has never been anything other than a loving father and husband; though it’s understandable that’s she’s relieved at her mother’s new found happiness, Rose’s father is clearly being betrayed. The book also veers off into a strange side plot involving Rose’s brother, Joseph. I won’t go into details about that because it’s a major part of the novel, but there are some pretty major holes in that part of the book as well.
If the last half of the book hadn’t felt to choppy, I probably would have loved this book. That said, I still found the book enjoyable enough to read in one day.