The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
A NovelBook - 2010
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 ).
From the critics
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"'Sometimes, she said, mostly to herself, I feel I do not know my children.'...it was a fleeting statement, one I didn't think she'd hold on to; after all, she had birthed us alone, diapered and fed us, helped us with homework, kissed and hugged us, poured her love into us. That she might not actually know us seemed the humblest thing a mother could admit...and it was the first thing she'd said in a very long time that I could take in whole."
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When she turns nine, Rose Edelstein discovers she has a remarkable gift. In whatever she eats, she can taste the mood of whoever made the food. Unfortunately, what she tastes most often is despair, longing, hurt, or emptiness – so her gift is actually a curse. Only one person believes her, her brother’s brilliant best friend. One person ignores her, her nearly-brilliant brother. Her vibrant mother frets, her distant father placates. As Rose matures, so does her talent, until she can taste individual ingredients, tell where they came from, and even which farm or factory. But always there is the human element in the food that tastes of something sad, and always Rose must mask the nature of her gift by eating pre-packaged junk food. However, when her detached brother begins to disappear for days at a time, Rose begins to realize that she may not be the only person in her family with a peculiar talent, and that hers may not be the most painful. The story is told from Rose’s rather neurotic perspective, but the author uses the unusual convention of no quotation marks to indicate when a character is speaking, so the reader must pay closer attention to the narrative, pay closer attention to who is saying what. But as Rose discovers, being able to taste people’s moods is no more revealing the words they speak, and it certainly gives her no power to prevent or correct the sadness she senses in others. The central character of the first part of the novel is her mother, the climax of the novel involves her brother, but the mystery behind her own talent is solved from an entirely unexpected quarter. With this revelation Rose stops resenting both her gift and herself, and learns to appreciate the uniqueness of both. Funny, heartbreaking and mysterious, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a surreal tale comparable to The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman or The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.