When I began reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, I thought it would be solely about what the title and cover description implied, a little girl experiencing the emotions of her mother through the food her mother makes. But this novel ended up being so much more; Rose Edelstein’s special ability to feel what other people do through food extends beyond her mother or the short-term illness she hopes it is, and it continues for the rest of her life. With this magical skill, Rose begins to understand her life, the people in it in, and how they are interwoven, in creative and inciteful ways.
Rose discovers that her mother is not only her mother, but a living, breathing, suffering being. Rose must accept that the person she thought she knew, the people we all think we know, are not the true people, rather they are our own creations. A once happy and uncomplicated mother is now complex and very unhappy, but she is more real.
Her father doesn’t cook, so Rose doesn’t taste his emotions, but she learns to be more perceptive because of her ability and to examine his behaviors and emotions so that she relates to him differently, too. The dad who is distant and unemotional can also be seen as someone with a past, which has influenced his current actions. His behaviors, such as refusing to enter hospitals no longer seem so black and white.
Rose’s brother, Joseph, exhibits bizarre behaviors, which become a little more understandable within the context of her own and her family member’s struggles over the years. With a noted interest over several years, Rose slowly examines a boy and then adolescent, who seems merely anti-social, strange, and distant, but who also, eventually, becomes a little less of an enigma.
This creative and touching story of a unique family struggling to get by, told from the lens of a sweet, intelligent, wounded, little girl, is like all stories of families, both happy and sad. The author keeps it interesting and readable throughout with innovative characters and touches of magical realism. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.
STAR RATING: 3 out of 5