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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel Hardcover – June 1, 2010
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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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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.
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My one critique would be the lack of quotation marks to denote external versus internal dialogue in the story.
On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein discovers she has suddenly developed a strange ability: when eating, she can taste the emotions of the person who cooked her food. Eating the chocolate lemon cake and other food her emotionally needy mother cooks causes Rose tremendous distress; she must resort to eating snack food and other "sterile" meals to escape tasting her mother's torment. She can taste when a baker is hurried, or when someone's girlfriend wants to be loved. (As this ability matures, Rose can detect where every ingredient of a meal originated, and even can tell if a farmer picked his parsley angrily before bringing it to market.) Rose's ability causes her to detach a bit from life, alongside her equally-withdrawn brother, Joseph. The only true light in Rose's life is Joseph's childhood friend, George.
I really loved this book. While I wish that Bender had fleshed out Rose's ability a little deeper, and I felt it veered into unnecessarily strange territory at one point, I was really captivated by this book's heart and its soul. Some have said this is a ripoff of Like Water for Chocolate, but I disagree. Bender's creativity is fascinating and she really lavished a great deal of love and complexity on her characters. If you enjoy suspending your disbelief when reading fiction, if you're a fan of authors like Alice Hoffman and Audrey Niffenegger, then this book is definitely for you. But don't read it on an empty stomach!
We live in a world full of diagnoses, classifications, and labels for people who have heightened awareness, or sensory differences. There are therapies and devices to help them block out their senses to prevent "over stimulation."
Perhaps, it's really a gift. Maybe some of us need to spend some time fine tuning our senses, instead of trying to hide them.
A great read!