Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Title: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Author: Aimee Bender

Genre/Pages: fiction/304

Publication: Doubleday; June 1, 2010

Rating: 2.5  Bookmarks

Source: Publisher

Nat’s 1-Sentence Synopsis: The day before her 9th birthday, Rose Edelstein realizes her unwanted gift of tasting the emotions of  people who prepare the food she eats, and she spends the next decade eating her way through prepackaged food in an attempt to avoid emotional assault.

Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake tells the story of Rose Edelstein and her ability to taste not only the food that she eats but also the feelings of the person who prepared it.  Rose is saddled with intimate knowledge of her mother’s deepest feelings via her cake and roast beef dinner–loneliness, guilt–and makes several fruitless attempts to get  help for her problem.

Rounding out the Edelstein family is an emotionally detached father whose stabs at parenthood are almost mechanical, and Joseph, Rose’s older brother.  Joseph, secretive, distant, and possibly autistic, is struggling with his own talents but holds a special place in their mother’s heart.

I was in love with the premise of this book from the minute I read the synopsis on another blog and was willing to get on board with the magical realism genre because the story seemed to hold such promise.  Bender does write beautifully and can capture emotions and relationships in a way that many authors can’t.  The father-daughter dynamic was especially realistic, and I wish she could have mined it further.

Unfortunately, this book just didn’t live up to my expectations on many levels.  The middle of the novel seemed to drag and the storyline with Rose’s brother seemed too far-fetched, without clear resolution.  Additionally, Bender forgoes the use of quotation marks in the dialog, making reading more labor-intensive.  Personally, I found it a bit irksome.

Though flawed, this novel does offer a unique story with wonderful characterization and beautiful writing, and I’d be interested to hear your opinion if you’ve read this one.

18 Comments

  • At 2010.07.05 21:08, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

    I was so excited by the premise of this book when I first heard about it, but almost every review I’ve read agrees with your assessment, so I’ll probably skip it.

    • At 2010.07.05 21:20, Natalie said:

      I haven’t read any other reviews–I make it a point not to so my own opinion isn’t colored–but am now going to see how my review compares.

      The book had some really good points…but a few aspects just didn’t speak to me.

    • At 2010.07.06 08:28, vivienne said:

      What a shame, it does sound like a fabulous storyline, but I might give this a miss.
      .-= vivienne´s last blog ..Books I Would Like To Read In July =-.

      • At 2010.07.06 10:21, dw said:

        I agree with Kathy. I was really interested in reading this book when I first heard about it and I was considering getting it when it came out. But after reading a few reviews of it, I think I’m going to skip this one now.
        .-= dw´s last blog ..Review- Delivering Happiness =-.

        • At 2010.07.06 16:32, Andi said:

          I’m seeing lots of mixed reviews about this one. I was in love with the premise as well, so I’m curious to see where I’ll fall on the love/hate continuum. I’m on the library holds list, so we’ll see!
          .-= Andi´s last blog ..Grow It Like Ya Mean It =-.

          • At 2010.07.06 16:52, Meg said:

            So I have to admit right off the bat that I’m a sucker for covers featuring food (I’m a glutton, I’ll admit it), so this one had my attention from the start! Yours isn’t the first “meh” review I’ve read, though, so I’m not sure what to make of this one. I’ll probably give it a go at some point… I generally enjoying books with that hint of magical realism, at least where Sarah Addison Allen’s novels are concerned (my favorite being The Sugar Queen)!
            .-= Meg´s last blog ..How ‘let’s play it by ear’ stopped striking fear in my little heart =-.

            • At 2010.07.07 09:32, nat @book, line, and sinker said:

              i’m also a sucker for foodie covers! i borrowed a book from the library a while back that had a melting hot fudge sundae on the cover. the book didn’t stay with me, but the cover sure did!

            • At 2010.07.06 16:53, Meg said:

              *Enjoy, rather. I enjoy books with a hint of magical realism. I hate when I don’t proofread!
              .-= Meg´s last blog ..How ‘let’s play it by ear’ stopped striking fear in my little heart =-.

              • At 2010.07.06 17:12, Kerri said:

                Too bad. I love Lemon Cake.
                .-= Kerri´s last blog ..Happy Canada Day and Challenge Wrap-Up =-.

                • At 2010.07.06 19:08, Jenners said:

                  It does have such a good premise. Though I wouldn’t want her tasting any of my food. It annoys me when authors don’t use quotation marks … there has to be a pretty darn good reason not to use it … but I don’t know what the reason could be. If I don’t get my quotes, I at least want a different font or italics for dialogue. Sorry it didn’t live up to your hopes for it!
                  .-= Jenners´s last blog ..Mid-Year Review- Part I- Best Books Read So Far =-.

                  • At 2010.07.06 21:24, Heather @ Book Addiction said:

                    Definitely a shame. I think the premise to this one sounds awesome, and like some other said, I’ve seen mixed reviews. Some loved it, some felt like you did, Nat. I may pick it up eventually but I’m certainly not running to the bookstore for it.
                    .-= Heather @ Book Addiction´s last blog ..The Song of Hannah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy =-.

                    • At 2010.07.07 03:18, Lex said:

                      That is sad! I had high expectations for this book too. The concept was a first timer for me. That is very odd too to miss quotation marks in dialogues. Have they forgotten to proof read?
                      .-= Lex´s last blog ..Liberty Fabric =-.

                      • At 2010.07.07 09:35, nat @book, line, and sinker said:

                        after i posted my review, i surfed around the web looking to see if there is a reason some authors don’t use quotes. it turns out that cormac mccarthy didn’t use them in ‘the road’, but i didn’t notice because i listened to the audiobook version. he told oprah winfrey that he didn’t like the look of the squiggles all over the pages and that if a book is written well, an author doesn’t need to use quotes.

                        hmmm…sounds a teeny bit pretentious, if you ask me.

                      • At 2010.07.08 19:10, Unapologetically Mundane said:

                        I’m soooooo into synesthesia, but for some reason this looks really cheesy to me. Maybe it’s the font on that cover. It’s so hard being a woman who doesn’t like womanly books.
                        .-= Unapologetically Mundane´s last blog ..Everyone Can See You with Your Finger Up Your Nose =-.

                        • At 2010.07.10 08:21, Beth F said:

                          Drat. I love the premise too, but so many people I respect (like you) have been disappointed that I’ve held off reading the book.

                          I hope you consider linking this review up to my weekend cooking post for this weekend.
                          .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Weekend Cooking- The Asian Barbecue Cookbook by Alex Skaria =-.

                          • At 2010.07.14 17:26, Jennifer said:

                            Haven’t read it but I’m definitely intrigued by the premise. Even more I love the cover – it always makes me long for a piece of cake. Mmmm. Anyway, I’ll probably eventually read this just to appease my curiosity, but I’m not in any particular hurry.
                            .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Review- Heart’s Blood =-.

                            • At 2010.07.18 11:06, Kim said:

                              I read this right when it came out, and really enjoyed it. I found myself stopping after a couple of particularly lovely sentences here & there to savor some of the language itself. I like the….quirky? way the author’s mind works, the originality of the story. Just a fresh story. I like how the storyline of the brother wasn’t tied up in a neat bow.

                              Did you read An Invisible Sign of My Own? That made me like her.

                              Please stop by my ‘place’ anytime, I read a bit too. 🙂
                              .-= Kim´s last blog ..Meet My Nemesis I Mean…Breakfast =-.

                              • At 2010.07.18 21:40, Literary Feline said:

                                I’m sorry this one wasn’t better for you. I do want to read it eventually as the premise does sound intriguing and I’m too curious to pass it up. Glutton for punishment, that’s me! Have you read anything else by this author? I think I may have a short story collection by her in my TBR pile. Maybe I’ll give that a try first.
                                .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Sunday Salon- The Vietnam War My Reading- Part 2 =-.

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