The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
By: Aimee Bender
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake left me with much of the same feeling as the protagonist expressed throughout the book: a sense of emptiness. The majority of the book simply goes through the struggles of our protagonist, Rose, as she discovers this unsavory power she has been bestowed. She finds herself able to taste not only the emotions of the cook within each dish and pasty she eats, but also anything and everything about where and how each aspect of the dish was prepared. For about two thirds of the novel we struggle with her as she tries to understand this new power. However, as she struggles so does the reader.
I found it difficult to take interest in the book after about the 20th time she finds she can no longer eat this or that because the feeling of the food leaves a poor taste in her mouth. There was only so much of it I could take, but I pushed forward due to the very subtle mysteriousness of her older brother, Joseph. He too had some sort of ability but there was no hint as to what it could possibly be. Although he, nor any of the other personalities, have much depth to their character, the unknown of Joseph’s ability and possibly the remaining members of the families’ possible abilities forged enough want for the unknown to continue.
Although we encountered the strange gifts from their aloof grandmother, the affair and flaky character of her mother, and the overwhelming dullness of her father, nothing was elaborated in a way that provoked enough interest in the reader to care one way or another. The book was primarily made up of Rose’s displeasure with food and a semi-mysterious moment tossed in here and there. Each semi-mysterious moment would leave us saying “Okay…and?” with no answer to our question.
Toward the end of the book all the events seem to hurry up and pile on top of each other. Suddenly our protagonist is grown up and discovers her power isn’t all bad and begins to take control of her life, her brother’s strange ability is finally revealed , however, we are given no real explanation as to what exactly this power is and what happens to him, and her parents finally begin to have some depth added to them. We are still left with a multitude of questions and no answers, not even an inkling of what happens to the family or how this strange power effects her life.
Aimee Bender’s style of writing has left me feeling as empty as the lemon cake presented in the beginning of the book. However, her writing style matches the mood of the book well despite the choppiness through the ages of our main character. As Rose moves through her life we experience a poetic descriptiveness of the complexities of the feelings of the people around her. There was some back and forth toward the end in terms of chronology as she tries to tie together her brother’s mystery and her family’s complexities that I did not care for. That’s not to say that I’m not intrigued by not only her writing style but also her intricate family dynamics. I am more than unwilling to give her writing style another try when I read Willful Creatures later down on my reading list.
Currently I am ready Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. Check out my front page in the right-hand column to find out what I’ll be readying next.