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 mothers homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mothers emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her motherher cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mothertastes 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 hiddenher mothers life outside the home, her fathers detachment, her brothers 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 Benders place as a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language (San Francisco Chronicle).
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, shed 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, ...
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 (862 words).
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.
Barbara 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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