A gorgeous book from fellow Californian Aimee Bender, "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" was an unexpected delight. This being my first experience with Bender's work, I was immediately surprised and won over by the streamlined prose and momentary flowerings of poetic diction.
“Mom loved my brother more. Not that she didn't love me - I felt the wash of her love every day, pouring over me, but it was a different kind, siphoned from a different, and tamer, body of water. I was her darling daughter; Joseph was her it.”
Bender's novel opens with protagonist Rose Edelstein's discovery that food will never be the same. Sampling a trial-run birthday cake made by her mother, Rose is overcome with a flood of complex and unpleasant emotions - her mother's. After days of distress and a series of experiments with George, her brother's charming best friend, Rose learns that her skill extends beyond the realm of her mother's cooking. Able to uncover the hidden longings of a baker, or the poignant "first love" flutterings felt by a sous chef, she turns more and more to "factory" food to escape the onslaught of information each bite introduces.
“...a Dorito asks nothing of you, which is its great gift. It only asks that you are not there.”
The reader tracks Rose from age nine to early twenties, a journey rife with humor, nostalgia, and deep-seated pain. Unable to vocalize the nature of her gift for most of her life, Rose copes with the barrage of secrets she is forced to swallow, often in isolation. Bender's portrayals of family, of favoritism and heartbreak, of a sneakily disintegrating marriage, are pitch-perfect in their quietude. What is seen through the eyes (and tastebuds) of the youthful narrator is what the reader is allowed to access, and nothing more. This lack of omniscience stemming from point of view, coupled with the progratonist's special talent, results in a multidimensional, resonant narrative that is haunting and magical.