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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Paperback – April 19, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780385720960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720960
  • ASIN: 0385720963
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (488 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

248 of 264 people found the following review helpful By Chel Micheline TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of those rare books that makes me realize how grateful I am that I enjoy reading and am given the gift of being able to slip into someone else's story and experience what they do through the written word.

As other reviewers have noted: this is the story of a young woman who discovers that she can taste other people's deepest emotions and secrets through the food that they prepare. It changes her perspective on the world and while there is no "revolution of action" for her (meaning she doesn't harness the power to make a global impact or anything quite as grand) her perceptions and reactions are honest and breathtaking.

I'm not a huge fan of "magic realism" books because I find they tend to tilt towards overblown fairy-tale instead of moments of enchantment which enrich the story, but "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" is a perfect balance. Even the strange story of Rose's brother adds to the story, although there was a chapter I had to read several times to wrap my brain around.

While I do recommend this book, it's NOT for people who find untraditional narrative unappealing. For instance, there is not a *single* quotation mark in the entire book. There is little deliniation between throught and spoken word/conversation. At first, I thought "I can't read this..." but within a page or two, I fell right into Rose's perspective and the book just flowed.

I really loved reading this book. While there were sad moments, I never once felt like chucking the book across the room, which I get the urge to do when other books get overwhelmingly depressing (usually for the sake of packing an emotional punch). "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" kept me enchanted and locked in its story until the last page. And then I insisted my husband read it, which I rarely do.

Great book.
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125 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Red Rock Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE begins as a fairy tale like adventure about a nine year old little girl named Rose who possesses an unusual "talent". It goes on to explore the well traveled terrain of family dynamics while giving it a magical twist. We are invited to join Rose and her family; a foursome of seriously depressed people, examine their individual coping mechanisms, discover the importance of friendship and acceptance, and come away enlightening by the author's in-depth character insights. I came away from the experience bewildered.

While the author has a definite way with words and her descriptions conjure up magnificent images the ending of the story literally fell apart for me with the resolution of the story of Rose's brother Joseph. I could never really discern between the fact and fantasy part of Joseph's life. I realize that he, like the rest of the family, was suffering from depression but that was only the tip of his particular iceberg. Was he psychotic, autistic, or are we to believe that he really possessed extraordinary powers. I am so confused.

For me this book started out a five star event but dwindled to a three by the time I read the final page. Perhaps I missed a piece of the big picture that would have provided the clarification I am seeking. If so, let me know.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on May 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Several reviewers have done a fine job of describing the characters and plot of Aimee Bender's lovely new novel, "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake," and I see no reason to be redundant by reviewing the same material. However, I think a word is in order about the differing reaction among reviewers to this work.

Aimee Bender's magical realism, the use of the fantastical to explore the depths of the human heart, belongs to a particular tradition of writing. While to my mind Bender continues to be one of the finest practitioners of this tradition - a gift once again demonstrated by "Lemon Cake," through its tender humor and memorizing sparse prose - this is not a genre that appeals to every reader. Enjoying magical realism requires the ability to accept the unbelievable; where good science fiction should be built on a cogently described and internally consistent universe, magical realism asks that the reader simply agree to the author's premise and join them on the journey.

Consider for a moment the magic of Rose Edelstein, gifted and cursed with the ability to taste the emotional state of those that prepare her food. The how and the why of this are to a large extent superfluous. In the case of some magical realism this could be metaphor, though here it as much a vehicle, allowing Bender to explore the barriers which form the contours of life: between adults and children, between siblings, and between our internal and external lives. The emotional resonance of this novel lies in the fallout from Rose's power, rather than the power itself, as she finds herself peering into the inner lives of all those around her, trying with a child's mind to understand what she's shown. Bender paints her as a sympathetic, funny girl in various stages of her youth, beginning at age nine.
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55 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If I had been asked to rate this novel on the basis of the first fifty pages, I might have given it 3 stars; however, Bender is so expert at building emotions through her fairy-tale magic realism that, after I read the final words, I sighed with pleasure at a story well-told. Narrator Rose is burdened with a terrible "gift." She can taste the emotions of the cook in every bite she eats, whether that cook is her depressed mother or a rushed restaurant chef or the person who grew the herbs. When Rose tastes the bitterness and betrayals in her parents' marriage, she finds herself on her knees in gratitude for the school vending machine and its array of impersonally processed junk food. Her brother Joseph has a problem as well; he wants nothing more than to be left alone, to be divorced from the dysfunctional family, to disappear from the restrictions of his life. The two understand each other only as siblings can, even though they refuse to accept, at least at first, the peculiarities of the other. It takes George, Joseph's brilliant friend, to release both of them, albeit in different ways.

Bender is known for her fairy-tale-like stories, although her brand of magic realism is more minimalist than most, told with spare prose and no-nonsense characterizations. Although the language is poetic at times, it is never lush, and this stylistic choice makes extraordinary circumstances seem almost mundane. The real force, however, is how the emotions begin to well up in the magic until they mean something so powerful that they change how the reader perceives everything about it. Reading Bender is like eating a Tootsie Roll pop -- all sweet and sameness on the exterior until you reach the chewy middle and realize just how good the complete combination is.
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