Thursday, February 24, 2011

Magical Realism - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Rose Edelstein doesn't realize there's anything special about her until her ninth birthday when, while eating the lemon-chocolate cake her mother has baked for her, she discovers that she can taste emotions in food. In this particular cake, Rose tastes the loneliness, the hollowness and unhappiness of her mother. Unable to cope with the emotional disturbances that home-cooked food brings, Rose turns to factory-manufactured junk food for substenance as much as possible. She goes through the rest of her childhood and teenage years trying to deal with the knowledge that food brings her - news of her mother's love affair with a co-worker, a friend's depression, the intense feelings of cooks and chefs from random restaurants. Her problems with food are not helped by her dysfunctional family; her father is distant, her mother feels neglected, and her older brother is a genius recluse who is gradually receding into himself. Each family member is in their own little world, and Rose has no idea who to turn to or how to cope with the emotions that food brings her.

Magical realism is such an odd genre. Most of this book is completely realistic, simply telling the story of a dysfunctional family. Except for the parts about Rose's ability to taste emotions in food and the place where someone turns himself into furniture. I was surprised about how sad this book was. All of the characters, wrapped up in their own separate worlds and unable to truly connect with each other, are almost overwhelmingly lonely. There's no truly happy ending, either, only a bittersweet one. It's a depressing read, but at the same time I enjoyed it. My one issue with this book is that I felt like it had a deeper meaning that didn't come through enough for me to be able to completely catch it.

Maturity Factor: Some isolated stuff. Sex is mentioned, very briefly, once, and there's some random profanity.

My ARC of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was received through GoodRead's First Look program. Published by Doubleday, it went on sale in June, 2010.

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