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July 6, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake


Fiction
2010 Books on Tape
Reader: Author
Finished 6/14/12
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)




Publisher’s Blurb:


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).

Meh.

A couple of my co-workers read this coming-of-age novel when it first came out, so I decided to give it a try when I saw that the audio version was available through my library. I doubt I would have invested the two weeks I spent listening, had I tried the printed version instead. I have no objections to magical realism: I loved Bless Me, Ultima (Rudolfo Anaya); Chocolate (Joanne Harris); Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquival); and Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen). However, this novel was just plain weird! To explain why would reveal too many spoilers. Suffice it to say that the Edelstein family is one of the strangest and most dysfunctional families I’ve ever encountered in my reading. I never came to care about any of them or any of the supporting characters in the novel.

…oddly beautiful (Washington Post)

…gorgeously strange (People Magazine)

…bizarre sensitivity (The Atlantic)

…wonderfully strange (The Courier-Journal)

Taking her very personal brand of pessimistic magical realism to new heights (or depths), Bender's second novel....careens splendidly through an obstacle course of pathological, fantastical neuroses.....[Bender] emerges as more a spelunker of the human soul....plumbs an emotionally crippled family with power and authenticity....brimming with a zesty, beguiling talent. (Publishers Weekly)


Final Thoughts: Yep. This is one odd, strange, and bizarre work of magical realism. And for me, sadly, a major disappointment

22 comments:

  1. I've gone back and forth about this one--seems that people either really love it or are "meh" about it. My library has the audio so eventually I'll get to it. Or not.

    The photo! It's gorgeous!! How did you manage to set up that shot or was it lucky? LOVE!

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    1. Hmmm, I wonder what you'll think of this book... ;)

      I think my header has changed since this comment. Were you referring to the sunset with the bikers on the dam by the lake? I was out on my kayak and saw the sun setting. I saw a few people coming toward the sunset on their bikes so I shot a dozen or so photos. This was the best. I love it and have it framed and hanging in, of all places, my kitchen!

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    2. Your new 4th of July picture is lovely as well, but yes I was talking about the sunset. How lucky to see such a wonderful sight to snap!! (plus how awesome about the kayaking!)

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    3. Thanks, Trish. It was a beautiful day/evening on the lake, oh three years ago. ;)

      I no longer have the kayak. I rarely ever used it and wanted to upgrade my bike, so I sold it at a garage sale. Don't miss it at all. If we lived on a lake, it'd be a different story.

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  2. I remember thinking it strange, too, and terribly sad. I did like the magical realism, though, which once upon a time would never have been the case. It took novels such as one you listed (Like Water For Chocolate) to make me appreciate that style. Which the Japanese authors seem to be expert at writing! Anyway, I remember closing the book, looking at the shadow of the couple on the cover, and thinking perhaps they were the brother and sister struggling to make sense of their lives together.

    (My post is here.)

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    1. I just went back and read your review. You and I had completely opposite opinions of this book, didn't we? I like this quote that you included in your review:

      "Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed up people later in life, and I didn't appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early." (p. 117)

      One of the detriments of audio books is the absence of pages to highlight or cover in sticky notes. I really need to start carrying around a small notebook (Moleskin, perhaps?) for the purpose of jotting down passages.

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  3. Darn! I really liked the title. Sometimes that's the best thing about a book, unfortunately.

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    1. Yep. The title and the cover. Sometimes they just pull you in for no other reason than sounding (or looking) nice. :)

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  4. People seem to love this one or feel the way you did. I can't decide if I want to try it or not.

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    1. I'd be curious to know what you think, if you DO read it, Kathy. :)

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  5. Bummed that you didn't like this one, Les, but these different opinions keep me on my toes. :D I found her brother (Joe? name slips my mind) was SO SO SO tragic. Interested to read more of her stuff and see how it stacks up in the weirdness.

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    1. I need to go back and find/read your review, Andi! Yes, her brother (Joseph) was very tragic, in a bizarre sort of way. I wonder how her other books compare, too.

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  6. LOL I think I'll pass. :)

    Wild, Love Anthony, Off the Grid and Broken Harbor are all on my TBR list! I have Wild and look forward to your thoughts on it.

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    1. LOL. I'm not surprised! ;)

      I'm almost finished with Wild, but I'm behind with my reviews. It may be a while. :(

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  7. Have often wondered about this book - just not enough to make the effort to read it. I'll run from magical realism every time...

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    1. Honestly, I don't mind magical realism, but this one was too far-fetched for me to even suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the narrative. I simply didn't care for the characters, plot or magical realism. Oh, well.

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  8. I think you and I are the only two people who did not like this book.

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    1. It kind of feels that way, doesn't it? I did like it well enough to finish, though. I wonder if I would've had I been reading the printed version...

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  9. Hmmm....I have an ARC of this one so i'm hoping that I enjoy it???!!

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    1. You might. You never know. It may have been one of those books I should've read rather than listened to. I guess we'll never know!

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  10. It's a very divisive book. I liked it but I know many people who did not.

    But I can never see the cover without wanting that cake. Omg.

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    1. Funny you should mention the cake. It looks like the cake my husband always requests on his birthdays. Nothing fancy, just a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I prefer something a little more decadent. Maybe with some raspberry filling. Mmmmm.

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