2010 Books on Tape
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)
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).
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