Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

   Rose is just 9 years old when she realizes that she has a unique ability.  She can taste people's emotions by eating the food they prepare.  She discovers this while eating a slice of lemon cake her mother baked, and even though the cake is delicious, it also tastes of "smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother" (p 10).

   After several years of eating food that tastes like sadness, guilt, anger, desire, etc., Rose decides to try and stick to food that is highly processed and made by no one in particular.  She is only a child, and the strain of feeling these adult emotions is too much to bear sometimes.  Rose becomes reclusive and "suspicious of people and all the complications of interior lives" (p 125).  The novel chronicles Rose's life into her twenties as she struggles in finding ways to cope with her abilities, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

   I really like the premise of this book.  It's unique and interesting with the potential to be an amazing novel, but for me, it just did not live up to its potential.  I know a lot of people really loved this book, but I had trouble getting past the clunky grammatical structure.  Aimee Bender did not use quotation marks in dialogue scenes, so there were a lot of "he saids" and "she saids" on every page.  I thought this was very distracting and limiting to the dialogue.

   I also felt that the novel ended very abruptly without working out many of the central conflicts.  I know we can't expect all novels to be wrapped up in a neat little bow with an epilogue, but in order for characters to be dynamic, there needs to be at least some growth and change.  Sometimes authors write flat characters on purpose, in order to make other characters stand out in contrast, but I found all of the characters in this book to be stagnant, which made it difficult to stay committed to the book.  Overall, I think Aimee Bender came up with a really unique concept for this novel, and I really tried to love it, but I found it difficult to relate to the characters and was often distracted by awkward dialogue and the general lack of cohesiveness throughout the plot.