I felt a particular sadness after reading this book, an emotion I hadn’t expected, probably on account of my usual happy associations with lemon cake. But instead, I felt more like the protagonist, young Rose Edelstein, who at age 9, tasting her mother’s lemon cake, experienced emptiness and yearning and despondency. It turns out Rose suddenly could sense the emotions characteristic of the food preparer, and that rarely turned out to be a good thing.
It makes her life very lonely, because hardly anyone understands or even believes her except her older brother’s friend George. But George eventually goes off to MIT, and Rose’s brother Joe gets lost in his own “gift,” one even more conducive to isolation and despair than Rose’s.
As Rose goes from age 9 to age 22, we follow along from time to time, and learn what becomes of this girl with the gift that can seem like a curse, and of her equally unusual family.
Evaluation: There are some lovely flights of prose, and one certainly wants to keep reading to see how it will all turn out. But I found this to be a book that generally was sorrowful. I could have cried for most of the characters; their complicated problems resulted in lives shrunken by eccentricity into just existences. I’m definitely thinking that the next time I’m at Starbucks, I’ll skip the lemon cake; it would probably make me feel depressed.
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010