Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

It was the cover and the title that drew me to this book.  I noticed it while wandering around a bookstore one day.  It sounded interesting.  Rose takes a bite of lemon cake one day and can feel the emotions of the person who baked the cake.  Luckily, I didn't buy the book and instead waited until it was available at the library. 

As much as I was looking forward to reading this, I was quite let down by the actual experience of reading it.

The story had potential.  Rose has a rather bizarre ability.  But it felt like three fourths of the book just described this curse and how she coped.  It was described in such a way that it began to not make any sense at all.  I can understand a feeling of sadness or anger.  But the author goes on and on about how she can tell the exact location of where the cheese was made, where the cows were born, if the factory workers had a fight with their spouse.  It got ridiculous.  Maybe I'm just having a bit of trouble suspending belief, but if this sense, curse, or whatever it was, really affected the way something tasted, after a while wouldn't a person simply become accustomed to it? 

Another thing that bothered me about the book is that Rose is almost nine years old when she discovers this, but she understands it at the same level as an adult would.  I tend to not like books about young children who are presented as adults.  I spend much of my life with teenagers and while I do view them as fairly intelligent and knowledgeable about many things, I can't imagine them examining feelings in such a way, so I certainly can't imagine a nine year old doing so.  Nothing else in the book indicated that she was especially intelligent.

Her brother though is described as a genius, and yet, he can't get into any of the schools he wants to attend.  Her brother seems to suffer from some rather severe anti-social issues.  And yet, he has a mother who adores him, and a father that always tries to do what is best for his family.  The brother's issue is never fully explained, and in the end it's all just very, very confusing.

I'm generally a fan of magical realism.  But in this case, it didn't quite work for me.  Everything else was so simple and normal, and throwing in these bits of surrealism felt awkward.  I wasn't able to suspend my belief enough to accept this story.  I kept thinking maybe the supernatural abilities mentioned were a metaphor of some sort, but if that was the case I never quite figured it out.  I kept reading, waiting for the big reveal, the deep, dark secret that must be triggered all these bizarre experiences, but again, never happened.

There wasn't much action in the story.  The characters, despite their odd abilities, lived very dull lives.  I kept waiting for the story to begin, for the action to happen.  It never did.  And in the end I was very disappointed because none of it made sense.

The characters are sad and confused, but they do nothing to try and improve their situation.  They remain very childlike in the lack of knowledge that life gets better as a person gets older, that a person doesn't have to remain crushed by the weight of their parents' experiences, that the opportunity to move on a create a life of one's own is available.  That rant there comes from the ending of the book, when Rose tries to justify her brother's behavior.  Life had become too much.  But why?  There's never an explanation.

I found the story frustrating.  I needed more of an explanation as to why things happened.  I think this story could have been interesting, but wasn't.

I really don't recommend this book.  Despite the pretty cover, with the delicious looking piece of cake, the story was rather bland and lacking flavor.

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