Book Title: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Author: Aimee Bender
Genre: Magical Realism, Coming of Age, Adult Fiction
Blurb from Goodreads
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.
I really wanted to love this book. I love the title. I love the idea of the book so I truly thought that I would love it…
The book started off wonderfully. I was drawn in by the most beautifully descriptive prose. I found myself getting lost in the language and I felt that I could almost taste, smell, touch and see everything the characters could. So it didn’t really matter that the book was gentle and slow moving as I was completely enchanted with the almost ethereal quality of the story.
However the story just seemed to fail to develop. The basic plot line follows nine year old Rose and her family. On the eve of her birthday her mother bakes a lemon-chocolate cake and when Rose takes a bite of this cake she suddenly discovers that she can taste all of her mother’s feelings and emotions in the cake. This comes as quite the shock to Rose and causes her undue upset as she discovers how unhappy her mother is.
And so it goes that she can taste the feelings and emotions of whoever made any food; be it cookies from a bakery, meals in a restaurant, food from her school friends’ homes etc.
So through her tastebuds from this young age Rose, for example, was suddenly learning that her parents were not the perfect people that we always think our parents to be when we are children; and for Rose having to learn about their faults and failings from such a young age led to her being a very confused child who sought out factory manufactured snack foods just to escape learning about the pain her mother was in.
Through Rose’s tastebuds we experience her coming of age story and learn more about her family. What the author does handle well is some of the awkwardness of being a young teenager. A part of the book I particularly identified with was when Rose was twelve years old and she was still wanting to play but she became both embarrassed by those feelings and then bored of her old toys as she felt she should be more grown up. It brought back all the memories of my own awkwardness during that transitional adolescent phase.
However where this book became such a let down for me is that for two thirds of the book absolutely nothing happened. I struggled to maintain an interest in the book and at times almost gave up reading it.
We were given brief snippets into the lives of each of Rose’s family but I felt the character development of each family member was somewhat lacking.
I needed to know more…
- Why was her mother always so unhappy and so seemingly trapped by her life?
- I needed much greater detail about her father; we really never learned much about him at all other than his “quirk” with hospitals.
- And her brother Joseph; what were his reasons behind his desire to be alone?
- Rose had a crush on her brother’s best friend George but there was no depth to this plot point.
- Teenage Rose started casually dating a bit at school… again lacked depth.
For a book with such beautifully descriptive language it is almost ironic how I felt the story started to describe a number of different plot points but never satisfactorily saw any of them through to a conclusion.
Nothing about the book felt finished and when we got to the seemingly most major plot reveal regarding her brother’s story… Well it all seemed too ridiculous and just so unexplained.
I finished this book asking why did this happen, what was the reasoning. I don’t mind an open ended book but within reason. This wasn’t an ending where I could let my own imagination and thoughts run loose and dream up of what was now happening to the characters after I’d closed the book. This book just left me sadly hollow.
Not for me.