Summary and book reviews of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

A Novel

By Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jun 2010,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    304 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Casey Cep

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About this Book

Book Summary

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).

Excerpt
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon, a warm spring day in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light breeze moving east from the ocean and stirring the black- eyed pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes. My mother was home, baking me a cake. When I tripped up the walkway, she opened the front door before I could knock. How about a practice round? she said, leaning past the door frame. She pulled me in for a hello hug, pressing me close to my favorite of her aprons, the worn cotton one trimmed in sketches of twinned red cherries.

On the kitchen counter, she’d set out the ingredients: Flour bag, sugar box, two brown eggs nestled in the grooves between tiles. A yellow block of butter blurring at the edges. A shallow glass bowl of lemon peel. I toured the row. This was the week of my ninth birthday, and it had been a long day at school of cursive lessons, which I hated, and playground yelling about point scoring, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Rose goes through life feeling people’s emotions through their food. Many eat to feel happy and comforted. Does this extreme sensory experience bring any happiness to Rose or only sadness?

  2. What does Rose mean when she says her dad always seemed like a guest to her? How does this play out in the rest of the novel?

  3. “Mom's smiles were so full of feeling that people leaned back a little when she greeted them. It was hard to know just how much was being offered.” What does Rose mean and how does this trait affect the mother’s relationships?

  4. Why do you think the dad like medical dramas but hate hospitals?

  5. Rose says, “Mom loved my brother more. Not that she didn’t love me-- I felt the wash of ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Bender ... lingers in the experiences of her characters rather than bothering with scientific or rational explanations. But to place the novel in the genre of magical realism is to exaggerate the scale of Bender's project and to distract from the very realist depiction of family and food that she has created. Bender takes a magical premise and makes a real story out of it: Rose's coming-of-age narrative unfolds alongside several other smaller, though related, stories of love, and a larger but more subtle commentary on consumption.   (Reviewed by Casey Cep).

Full Review Members Only (862 words).

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Ron Charles

Too much of this could quickly overwhelm the flavor of a story with the cloying aftertaste of Alice Hoffman's most overcooked novels, but Bender is sparing with the pixie dust. And besides, what really interests her is the sympathy Rose feels for her family, shown in a series of small, delicate scenes that convey the loneliness of these lives.

Entertainment Weekly - Leah Greenblat

Lemon's story never fully coalesces, but it still lingers long after, like the hum of a half-?forgotten melody. B+

Booklist - Michael Cart

But the effect soon fades, and the reader is left only with a lingering feeling of emptiness and the realization that sadness tastes a lot like bitterness.

Publishers Weekly

[T]his coming-of-age story makes a bittersweet dish, brimming with a zesty, beguiling talent.

Library Journal

Bender...deconstructs one of our most pleasurable activities, eating, and gives it a whole new flavor. She smooths out the lumps and grittiness of life to reveal its zest. Highly recommended for readers with sophisticated palates.

Reader Reviews
SUZANNE G

A very different story
This book is fiction and that fact needs to be remembered by the reader! Aimee Bender has created a character who has a terrific burden to bear. I liked her. I thought she stood up so solidly whenever she began to realize what she was eating had an ...   Read More

sue

Don't get it?
Wanted to read this book for some time, have seen it on top book lists for a while. It is very weird and I only finished it because I thought I may have been missing some part of the story. The end was worse than the other three-quarters. Learned ...   Read More

Kaelsma

I'll say ... This book is weird
This is a very strange book. Not much story. The only reason I stuck with it was because I wanted to see how one of the storylines panned out. I was ultimately disappointed. I didn't actually READ the book - I listened to the audio version which ...   Read More

SallyAnn

The Real Foodie
I may have missed the author’s intent in this book. I never really connected to the characters but the energy of the TV show Pushing Daisies with splashes of Alice in Wonderland did keep me turning the pages looking for that elusive moment. At ...   Read More

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Culinary Delights

Novelists are rarely famous for their culinary descriptions.  While food is often only the necessary garnish on an emotional or provocative scene, there are a few writers whose fictional foods have left readers salivating.  Modernism gave us the memory-inducing madeleine of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and the triumphantly-perfect boeuf en daube of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, but more recently novelists have turned their attention from fictional to nonfiction foods.

Animal, Vegetable, MiracleBarbara Kingsolver's experiment in eating locally produced her charming memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.  Moving from Arizona to Virginia, Kingsolver and her family resolved to eat only what they could ...

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