The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Ms. Hen has started reading some subpar books lately and hasn’t finished them. She is disgusted by books with bland writing. She won’t say which books those are, but she wanted to read one that she knew she would like, so she chose THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. She has read other books by Aimee Bender, and she has loved them. Aimee Bender writes some unique and strange novels and stories, which are right up Ms. Hen’s alley.
This novel is about a girl named Rose who can taste feelings in the food that she eats. Her mother bakes a lemon cake for her right before her ninth birthday, and Rose eats the cake when her mother is taking a nap, and Rose can taste her mother’s sadness in the cake. She is horrified that she is overwhelmed by her mother’s emotions. She doesn’t understand why.
That night, the family eats chicken that the mother makes for dinner, and Rose can taste her mother’s hurt again. Ms. Hen likes that the family eats chicken, but it upsets her that it makes Rose distraught. Rose doesn’t know what’s wrong with her. She recruits her brother’s friend, George, to help her on her birthday to discover foods and figure out the feelings of people who made them. She tastes angry cookies at a bakery and a sandwich that is made by someone upset that her boyfriend doesn’t love her.
This novel is magical realism, but at the same time, it’s about a family. It’s about Rose and her parents and brother Joseph, and how they interact with each other. Rose can taste her mother’s feelings and she knows her secrets, and her brother is a strange kid who doesn’t know how to relate to people. The father is a lawyer and tries to be normal, except he can’t go into hospitals because he's afraid. The family has to deal with issues that Rose cannot control. Rose gets older in the novel, but most of the book takes place during the springtime of different years.
The subject matter of this novel reminded Ms. Hen of an article she read about cheese bread in the former Soviet State of Georgia. In the article, the people who made the bread have to be happy, or their sadness would come across in the taste. You can read the article here: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171120-georgias-addictive-cousin-to-pizza Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is quite true, or if this is superstition, but she thinks it is a lovely idea that someone who makes food should be happy.
This book is strange, but it is not over-the-top strange. It is just quirky enough that Ms. Hen wanted to eat lemon cake, and it made her hungry for good food. In the novel, Rose eats vending machine snacks in school when she is young, because she didn’t want to taste her mother’s pain, and she can't stand so much drama wrapped up in the food she eats. When she gets older, she learns to appreciate quality food.
Ms. Hen thinks this is a charming novel. It is the exact remedy for the mediocre books she has started to read lately. She wants to read more books like this, ones that are light and airy and like meringue, books that taste delicious when you read them.