Published by Anchor on May 26, 2010
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism
The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.
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.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle)
This storyline certainly had the potential for being a fascinatingly original novel about a young girl, Rose, who on the eve of her 9th birthday realizes that while eating a piece of homemade cake, that her mom is extremely sad. Confused, as a 9 year old would be, she doesn’t realize till it begins happening again and again, that by eating food prepared by someone she’s able to tell what kind of mood they are in.
I found this to be a variation of synesthesia, where individual letters of the alphabet and numbers are designated a color, where sounds can produce colors that arise around the produced sound, and where words can cause involuntary taste sensations. I first learned about synesthesia in Ultraviolet and found it to be quiet fascinating. Obviously in this story she’s not suffering from synesthesia; however, I found it to be a similar concept and was quite interested in the originality of it all.
The overall tone was quite dreary because this little girl was unable to explain to her parents why the dinner feels “empty” and why she knows that even though her mother manages to put on a happy face, it’s far from the truth. As the story progresses and Rose starts learning how to deal with her ‘gift’ she’s able to pick up more and more subtleties like why her mom is sad, why the baker who made the chocolate chip cookies is angry, and is even able to determine where the food has been and who has unknowingly passed on their emotions into it. After one particularly rough meal when her mother, for once, seems happier, Rose soon finds out the reason behind it.
”After I’d bussed the rest of the table, I wrapped up the remaining roast beef in plastic and put it in the refrigerator for some adultery sandwiches the next day.”
This was all in the first 1/3 of the book or so. Then the author decides to throw in the fact that her brother has a ‘magical ability’ as well… and suffice it to say, it was laughable. (view spoiler) Also, the lack of quotation marks drove me absolutely batty. How hard is it to put quotes in so I know what’s being said versus what’s being thought? Very difficult to read like that. Very upsetting because I was really excited about reading this, but I was extremely disappointed with the final outcome. By the end I was ready to give this book 1 star but because I was thoroughly intrigued by the first half of the book I decided to give it 2 instead.