Kelly's Reviews > The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
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Apr 22, 2011

did not like it
Read in September, 2010

** spoiler alert ** This plot was built on an interesting premise - the protagonist could taste every preparational element that went into the food she ate, including the undetected, subconscious emotions of the people who handled it. But this brings pain on the protagonist, as she seems to find only one or two human beings, throughout the course of her young life, who do not possess a divided emotional self that is racked with pain or frustration that permeate the food they make(query whether that is an ultra-, or un-realistic portrayal of the emotional lives of American individuals). In exchange for this pain, which physically crumples the protagonist at one point, I'd expect the author to give us some sort of payoff - perhaps some insight. But instead we trade the rest of the world's one-dimensional perspective of the mother for the protagonist's equally un-enlightening two-dimensional understanding of her mother as cheerful on the surface, and "lost" underneath. Ok, her mother is "lost." What next for her? For us? Why is she lost? How should we reconcile that with her cheerful exterior? Is there any hope that she can unify her two selves?

I could also have done without the family of people with weird superpowers - I thought her brother's "ability" to "become" or "vanish into" inanimate objects was just plain deeply creepy, and were we supposed to think that her father could heal the sick, but refused to? Also, what a weird choice to have her grandfather walk around with a "strap" over his nose. Couldn't it have been a familiar implement, like a handkerchief or a scarf, though usued unusually? Or maybe he grew his mustache out?

Finally, I thought the real potential of the story was left largely untapped. At the very end, after years of alternate emotional suffering and factory-made junkfood, the protagonist actually (finally!) begins to make her own food. And it tastes like a factory, because she doesn't know herself, probably because her own emotions are as hidden from her as everyone else's she's been tasting all these years are from their conscious selves. Here's a bit of intrigue, then. The idea that we don't know ourselves, and we have to work to do that, and that knowing ourselves holds some sort of fulfillment and comfort, was, I thought, the best idea of the book. But the character doesn't get there until the very end of the story we read, and the cover closes just as she's beginning to possibly learn to do that - and after her supremely creepy brother has promised to only vanish into one chair, which she will keep in the closet, which I'm sure is symbolic of something too dark and sad to bother with. C'mon, Ms. Bender - you've used some strange, lawless science fiction to hold quite the mirror up to ordinary humanity, here - now where is our potential? What promise is there in life, in us? Just that we all learn to quietly cope with this difficult world, and carve out a careful closet for ourselves, instead of completely withdrawing from it? ...Really?

Ugh. I'm glad to be leaving this one behind.
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Cristalle Great review. Loved your insight in that last paragraph. What a fuller read this would've been if that were addressed.


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