The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

I want to start this review by saying that I think this is one of the worst covers for a book ever. Not that it’s a particularly horrid cover, but it doesn’t represent the book itself in the least bit. DON’T judge this book by it’s cover. Unless you see the cover and think to yourself “wow, that book looks incredible”…then yes, you can judge it by it’s cover, because this book is incredible. When I look at the cover, I picture a light, happy go lucky book with maybe a touch of romance. Yes, there is maybe a touch of romance in this book, but it is far from light and happy go lucky. The only thing that I can maybe see that they were trying to do with this cover is to juxtapose the outside from the inside. What’s shown to the world versus what’s actually there. The sadness of lemon cake…two things that don’t normally go together. But I still think this cover targets wrong.

Rose is a young girl, just nine years old, when she tastes her mother’s sadness for the first time. Her mother bakes her a lemon cake for her birthday and when she takes a bite of it, she is overwhelmed with all of the sadness and longing that her mother, who plays the part of a happy woman with no cares, feels. This is the beginning of a life of voyeurism into the lives of others’ feelings through the food that they prepare. She tastes the thoughts of chefs, the farmers, the factory workers, the family members who create her food all while living with a family that is far from without it’s own problems.

Rose’s father is deathly afraid of hospitals, unable to enter them even during the birth of his own children. As we learn throughout family dinners, her mother plays the role of a happily married woman who must wear a smile while the feelings within her bring Rose to ultimate breakdowns at times. Rose’s brother, Joseph is perhaps the most troubled of them all, a boy that is near genius, but becoming more of a recluse. His only friend George has become somewhat of an idol to Rose, but once he goes off to college, Joseph begins to disappear more and more….both metaphorically and physically.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is written so beautifully and it’s magical realism is SO real at times that it’s fantastical elements seem effortless. Bender’s words are truly haunting at certain moments, causing my heart to speed up. Never scary…never thrilling…just haunting. And then there are scenes that are just filled with beauty. A tragic beauty, a touching beauty, a nostalgic beauty. She’s just able to capture moments so well. Able to capture the human psyche so well.

You know, I’ve never actually read Jeffery Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, but the movie that Sofia Coppola directed is one of my all time favorites. And I was reminded more than once of the feel of that movie while reading this book. It felt like that. That sort of haunting, narrative, foreboding, melancholic feel. And that’s something that I love in any art medium.

The other thing that I cherished in this book was the relationships. None of them were perfect in the least bit, but there was so much love there. Love that wasn’t perfect. And what love is? So many books try to create perfect love and that’s not real. Rose is able to see that her mother has favoritism towards her brother Joseph, but that doesn’t lessen her love for Rose. She also sees how her love for Rose is real, though it’s not always perfect. Rose’s parents’ marriage has major faults, but it’s steeped in ultimate love. I remember one quote where Rose’s mother tells her “I do love him”. And I thought that was one of the most raw quotes in it’s context. The relationship between Rose and her brother! Oh god, I could talk about her and Joseph forever but there’s too much to give away. Let me just say that there are scenes towards the end that made me cry cry cry. It’s not the best of relationships, that sibling relationship because Joseph has a hard time finding his place in our world. But there is love there. An odd love. And the relationship between Rose and Joseph’s friend, George was one that took me by surprise but truly touched me.

Bottom line, this will be one of my favorite books of the year and one that I will not soon forget. Aimee Bender will also be going on my “must read” list for now on. I’m so happy that I picked this one up despite knowing nearly nothing about it. And I think that’s a fantastic way to go into this book really. Not knowing much about it. And despite what I’ve told you in this review, trust me…you don’t know much about it. Pick it up and discover it for yourself.


6 Responses

  1. Sounds like something Alice Hoffman could have written. Thanks for the glowing review, I’d not heard of it and it sounds like a book I would really enjoy. Plus I love lemon in cakes!

  2. When you mentioned this book the other day, it was the first I’d heard of it. So I looked into it, and it really seems to be one of those love it or hate it books. I’m so glad you fell on the love it side! I have a feeling I will, too…but I’ll find out one way or the other because you’ve made me really really really want to read this one!

  3. I had no idea that’s what this book was about. It sounds almost like a reverse of Like Water for Chocolate, which is a fantastic book. I can see how the cover would be too light for a story like that. I’m so glad you reviewed this.

  4. That cover really doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the book as you describe it! Sounds fantastic – and the food part reminds me a bit of Garden Spells, which I loved. šŸ™‚

  5. Rhinoa, You’re totally making me want to go pull an Alice Hoffman book off of my shelves now! I still haven’t read her but I’ve been dying too. This one was so damn good. I think you really would enjoy it šŸ˜€

    Debi, OMG OMG OMG I’m excited!!! Ok…I just had to get that out :p First off, I’m going to try desperately to convince you to read this one while I’m in NY…It’s SO good! And I think you would love it. I don’t see how anyone could hate this one, but it sounds like some people have.

    Amanda, It’s SO SO good!!! Yes! It sort of is like a reverse Like Water for Chocolate but definitely with quite a bit more of a depressing or heavy mood to it. I’m glad you’re glad I reviewed it šŸ™‚ I so hope you read this one!!! I really think you’d like it.

    Darla, Hey! No, I don’t think the cover really fits this one at all. I thought this one might be similar to Garden Spells, though I still haven’t read Garden Spells. I have it though! I should read that one soon! Loved this one though. Think you’d like it too!

  6. You first paragraph made me laugh! I’ve been intrigued by this book for a while. The premise sounds awesome.

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