Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

2 of 5 stars 

Book Details: 

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).

Book Review:

Next level magical realism, or so I thought. The blurb excited me so much, but the book just left me disappointed. I'm aware that this is a quite polarizing book, and I hoped I'd be able to love it to the extreme. Alas, that did not happen.

The only thing I liked about this book was the writing style. I liked how the writing flowed so well, and the descriptions were magical.

But one reads such books primarily for the story line (which was beautifully outlined in the blurb here). The other bits are beautiful extras. This book, however, has only extras.

Her talent is tasting emotions through food. Okay. But she can also discern the origin of each ingredient. That sounds like two different talents to me, but okay the author decided to combine it. That's fine. What happens about it, though? Nothing. Nothing happens at all.
There is no growth for either the protagonist Rose or anyone else in her family. Chronologically, they grow older and into their lives. But overall it's just stagnation. There is no coming-of-age, no acceptance, no personal growth. That's why it's just such a disappointing book.

Her father and grandfather also have some powers that are neither explained well nor do they act on it. It's a pretty listless family, overall. Her grandmother is ignored throughout the story, and her mother seems like the only person who has any life in them. Alas, her cakes taste of guilt and despair.

This book just didn't cut it for me. There was no conclusion or even a hint of growth in this entire book. It was just about okay, and the only reason I didn't completely dislike it was because the language was wonderful. I will try to read more books by Aimee Bender in the future and hope they don't disappoint.

**Spoiler Alert**

Her brother also has a power. He can turn into furniture. While weird in itself, it also makes no sense in the context of the story. Her mother seems to prefer her brother, which affects Rose in surprising ways. If her brother, who is so much smarter, couldn't do well in college, she thinks she won't either and hence she doesn't go to college at all. Talk about self-esteem issues!

When she does figure out that he turns into furniture, what does she do? She doesn't try to help him with whatever issues he may have, does not suggest therapy to work through it. Doesn't even try talking to him herself. All she does is make him promise he'll stay in that one particular chair, which she keeps in her locker. I don't even want to get into the symbolism swirling through my head because none of it is good and some of it doesn't even make sense to me. Suffice to say, I thought it was a rubbish sibling relationship. At the very least she was enabling something supremely unhealthy. I don't think that's what love is.