Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

July 22, 2010



The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (Doubleday, 2010) is a novel of, as the title implies, sadness, but also of personal growth and family. The story centers on Rose, who as a young child discovers she has the ability to taste the feelings of the person who has cooked her food – whether this be at home, at school or in a restaurant. Within the culinary delights she samples, Rose is forced to taste the loss, frustration and pain of those who prepared the food, but also their love, joy, and satisfaction – the love the chef feels for those around him or even just his love of cooking. She makes a game of trying to identify the origin of the ingredients in the food she must savor or barely endure.

Rose struggles to adapt to this newly discovered gift, attempting to find people who bring only good thoughts and love to their food. When she fails, she resorts to vending machine snacks or pre-packaged, processed food. She struggles at home because as her mother makes dinner each night, she unknowingly pours her soul into the dishes, which Rose must dutifully eat. The story expands to focus on Rose’s family, to highlight her parents, her brother, Joe, and his friend George. Rose and George have a connection – he actually believes her announcement that her food contains feelings. Throughout the story, he is Rose’s one emotional constant, especially when she feels estranged from her family.   
This is a playful way to get into magical realism, and a novel way to give a character insight into the characters around her. While her gift initially shocks her, Rose learns to adjust – both to eating food that overwhelms her and to how it affects the relationships in her life. Her newfound power also dramatically shapes who she is as a person, how she interacts with those around her, and it also guides who she will become.

This book is rather enjoyable and not a difficult read. If you have a free weekend, you should be able to knock it out quickly. I found the family relationships realistic and genuine – you may not always like the four members of Rose’s family, but I feel that you can understand where most of them are coming from, especially as the story wraps up. There was one aspect of the story I personally did not walk away fully understanding – and for the sake of preventing spoilers, I won’t reveal that situation. Considering the rest of this story was easy to follow, I’m wondering if the editors won’t correct this before it officially hits the printers.

Otherwise, the rest of the story was relatable and believable, which is impressive, considering the tricky genre of magical realism. But Bender strikes the perfect balance of magic, real-life situations and relationships. Her novel is definitely worth picking up. 


Sheila (Bookjourney) said... @ July 26, 2010 at 7:17 PM

I was wondering how this one was - I have read a couple food related books recently and this one had me curious :)

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