From Publishers Weekly
Taking her very personal brand of pessimistic magical realism to new heights (or depths), Bender's second novel (following An Invisible Sign of My Own
) careens splendidly through an obstacle course of pathological, fantastical neuroses. Bender's narrator is young, needy Rose Edelstein, who can literally taste the emotions of whoever prepares her food, giving her unwanted insight into other people's secret emotional lives—including her mother's, whose lemon cake betrays a deep dissatisfaction. Rose's father and brother also possess odd gifts, the implications of which Bender explores with a loving and detailed eye while following Rose from third grade through adulthood. Bender has been called a fabulist, but emerges as more a spelunker of the human soul; carefully burrowing through her characters' layered disorders and abilities, Bender plumbs an emotionally crippled family with power and authenticity. Though Rose's gift can seem superfluous at times, and Bender's gustative insights don't have the sensual potency readers might crave, this coming-of-age story makes a bittersweet dish, brimming with a zesty, beguiling talent. (June)
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Surprisingly, only a couple of critics mentioned that The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
is a derivative of Like Water for Chocolate
, though Bender reverses Laura Esquivel's premise. But even those who noted the similarity praised Bender's original take on love, sorrow, and relationships and her surreal, sumptuous writing, particularly in her descriptions of food (only one critic faulted some awkward prose). Still, the novel garnered mixed reviews. Some critics disliked Rose's brother's characterization and the novel's lack of emotional tension, despite its plot. And many felt that the second half of the novel lacked direction and failed to take the fairy-tale elements to a deeper level. Readers willing to suspend their disbelief, however, will find much to enjoy here.