I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, so I just unwrapped it and took a bite. It was a homemade ham-and-cheese-and-mustard sandwich, on white bread, with a thin piece of lettuce in the middle. Not bad, in the food part. Good ham, flat mustard from a functional bakery. Ordinary bread. Tired lettuce-pickers. But in the sandwich as a whole, I tasted a kind of yelling, almost. Like the sandwich itself was yelling at me, yelling love me, love me, really loud. - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel 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 emotion in the slice.
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. Anything can be revealed at any meal. She can't eat her brother Joseph's toast, a cookie at the local bakery is laced with rage; grape jelly is packed with acidic resentment.
Rose's gift forces her to confront the secret knowledge all families keep hidden -- truths about her mother's life outside the home, her father's strange detachment, Joseph's clash with the world.
Yet as Rose grows up, she realizes there are some secrets that even her taste buds can't discern.
While the idea behind the book is intriguing, it is the execution that really drew me in. The book is told from Rose's point of view and the story begins when Rose is 9 years old. She tells us the comfort that she gets when she returns home from school and finds her mother in the kitchen. Her mother bakes as special treat while Rose does her homework -- and Rose's sense of well being is palpable.
It's clear that Rose is warm and affectionate and that her genius older brother considers her to be a pest. But as we read on, Joseph's coldness seems stronger than the usual disdain of an elder sibling. And no one sees how this affects Rose. Joseph is a genius and is allowed these quirks. Even as their mother showers Rose with affection, it is clear that her focus and affection center around her older child. Not that Rose complains, she takes it as given and carries on. It's Rose's voice -- full of understanding, humor and hope -- that pulls you into the book.
I worried about Rose as she struggled with the feelings and information that would come with each bite of food. And admired the way that Rose coped. On the one hand, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a story about family, love, friendship and about finding your place in the world. More than anything, it is fun, touching and hard-to-put down!
ISBN-10: 0385501129 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (June 1, 2010), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author:
Aimee Bender is the author of the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own and of the collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures. Her work has been widely anthologized and has been translated into ten languages. She lives in Los Angeles.
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