The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake:
by Aimee Bender
$25.95 List Price
Like the mix of ingredients used to make the titular dessert in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender’s novel is a blend of old-fashioned coming-of-age story and newfangled horror tale that becomes a less-than-satisfying confection about love, loss, and lunacy, and what they taste like in the preternaturally sensate mouth of one little girl. Bender, author of the story collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) and Willful Creatures (2005) and the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000), continues to explore a predilection for a kind of American-gothic postmodern realism with the story of Rose Edelstein, a California youngster blessed and burdened with the ability to taste human emotion in food and drink. Rose’s unusual gift, her burden, emerges during the “bright spring week” of her ninth birthday, almost a year after she developed a “strong love for sour” that was, perhaps, a precursor to the taste travails that follow. Arriving home from school one day, Rose finds her mother—who “enjoyed most . . . anything tactile”: tending flowers, stitching doilies, cabinetry work—baking her a lemon cake from scratch.
So far, so (sort of) normal. Yet when Rose breaks off a chunk of the still-cooling cake and ices it with chocolate frosting, something paranormal occurs. In the bite of birthday cake, Rose can detect her busy, sunny mother’s “smallness, the sensation of shrinking . . . a distance . . . a kind of lack of wholeness . . . that made it taste hollow. . . . She was not there, in it.”
Rose’s world is shaken and stirred, and for the remainder of this