Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" by Aimee Bender

Where has Aimee Bender been all my life? I had heard of her before but hadn't ever read any of her books, and now that I've read her amazing yet slightly weird The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I may be hooked.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein discovers she has suddenly developed a strange ability: when eating, she can taste the emotions of the person who cooked her food. Eating the chocolate lemon cake and other food her emotionally needy mother cooks causes Rose tremendous distress; she must resort to eating snack food and other "sterile" meals to escape tasting her mother's torment. She can taste when a baker is hurried, or when someone's girlfriend wants to be loved. (As this ability matures, Rose can detect where every ingredient of a meal originated, and even can tell if a farmer picked his parsley angrily before bringing it to market.) Rose's ability causes her to detach a bit from life, alongside her equally-withdrawn brother, Joseph. The only true light in Rose's life is Joseph's childhood friend, George.

I really loved this book. While I wish that Bender had fleshed out Rose's ability a little deeper, and I felt it veered into unnecessarily strange territory at one point, I was really captivated by this book's heart and its soul. Some have said this is a ripoff of Like Water for Chocolate, but I disagree. Bender's creativity is fascinating and she really lavished a great deal of love and complexity on her characters. If you enjoy suspending your disbelief when reading fiction, if you're a fan of authors like Alice Hoffman and Audrey Niffenegger, then this book is definitely for you. But don't read it on an empty stomach!

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