The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

I was sifting through the galleys in the Collection Management department at the library, and this one caught my eye. Lemon cake is my favorite cake so I couldn’t really understand how it could ever induce sadness. It has only ever made me happy!

I turns out the title is an allusion to the element of magical realism in this very well written novel by Bender. The protagonist, Rose, learns that she can taste the emotions of the person who prepares her food on her ninth birthday when she bites into her lemon cake with chocolate icing. She learns about her mother’s unhappiness this way, a realization that is tough to accept at the young age of nine.

[Random aside – Do people really put chocolate icing on lemon cake? That does not sound appetizing to me. Raspberries yes, chocolate not so much.]

As with most novels incorporating magical realism, the reader is expected to take Rose’s ability at face value. I thought Bender used this literary device expertly to tell the story of this family. She also writes wonderfully sparse prose that is a pleasure to read. It takes much more talent to write this way than to blather on for 800 pages. You have the feeling that she has deliberated over every sentence to make sure it sounds just right.

I definitely recommend this title. Magical realism can be awful and heavy-handed, but Bender writes it with refreshing ease.

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4 thoughts on “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

  1. Based on your review, I decided to go grab a sample for my Nook off B&N’s site. I was reading the reviews there and found that SO many of the readers gave it a negative review because of the lack of quotation marks.

    Why is that such a deal breaker for people? I remember reading “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Atwood for the first time and being thrown off by missing quotation marks as well, but never would I put down a book because of it. I felt that, once you let your idea of “traditional” formatting get of of the way of telling a story, it actually lent to it’s realism.

    Thanks for the review – I’m going to try this one out 🙂

    • I does take a few pages to acclimate to the different writing style, but I don’t mind it when authors leave out quotation marks as long as it somehow contributes to the style. Hemingway is one of my favorite authors so lack of punctuation obviously doesn’t bother me.

  2. I’ve read a mixed bag of reviews of this particular book, but I’m incredibly interested. Too bad I’m 20-something on the library holds list. Boo!

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