As a reader, I usually tend to favor the fantasy genre, steering away from most modern fiction. One novel changed my opinion of contemporary fiction, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. Instantly drawn by the cover and the title (c’mon, lemon cake does not have emotions) I flipped the book over and found the synopsis to be equally intriguing. Overall, I was intrigued.
Basically, the story is about a young girl named Rose Edelstein who on her ninth birthday discovers that she has a magical gift–or curse–she can taste her mother’s emotions in the birthday cake. The cake is of course lemon cake with chocolate frosting. She is surprised and horrified to find that her mother’s cake taste of sadness. Soon, by eating her mother’s home cooked meals, she learns of her parents’ discontent and her mother’s affair. Rose also discovers she is not the only one who is ‘gifted’ in her family. It turns out her brother has the ability to disappear quite literally from the world and her father cannot enter a hospital.
I won’t give much away, but I have to say this is one of my favorite books. The prose is beautiful and heartbreaking. The author not only describes the tastes and textures of the food so well you can taste it, but the emotions can be sensed as well.
To ask if I liked this book is an understatement. Let’s just say I enjoyed it so much I refused to turn it back into the library even though another reader had the book on hold. Fun fact: it turned out the patron waiting to read the book was my twin sister. When she saw the book on my coffee table she was not happy.
Back to the review. I have been disappointed to learn that other readers have not been as receptive to this novel, claiming that the characters are not developed, the plot is too weird, and some of the plot points go nowhere. I disagree. The characters are what glued me to the story, the fantastical elements blended well in the modern realistic setting, and some of the events that were left vague were intentional. There was no need for the author to bluntly state what was made obvious in the prose.
If you are looking for a unique story with great sensory detail, you will love this novel. It’s not the feel-good story of the year, but it certainly leaves a memorable aftertaste.