Review of “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender

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.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010

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23 Responses to Review of “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender

  1. Hmmm, I think I might have t be in the right mood to read this…

  2. Sandy says:

    I have heard quite a few people say the same thing. It is a nice idea really, especially if the protagonist would eat anything Italian that is made in my kitchen (I cook with wine, as I like to say!), but there are way too many good emotions experienced when people cook not to ultimately appreciate that.

  3. Rural View says:

    It would have been fun to be in Julia Child’s kitchen reading her emotions from her food. My father and I practically rolled on the floor laughing at her show, especially when she talked about measuring carefully as she poured and poured wine into whatever she was making. What a great personality and her voice . . . ! 😀

  4. marthalama says:

    I started to listen to the audiobook and had to stop. It was read by the author and I hate to say but I didn’t like her reading at all. She was rather monotone and, I don’t know, a little whiny. I still want to read this but I think I’ll wait until I’m a mood for a sorrowful book.

  5. zibilee says:

    I bought this one when it first came out after loving An Invisible Sign of My Own, but am now sad to hear that this one mad you so down! I still do want to read it, but I am going to have to adjust my expectations a little bit and be prepared for a more sorrowful story. Come to think of it, An Invisible Sign of My Own was also rather sad.

  6. Steph says:

    This definitely wasn’t an upbeat novel, but I definitely found it one of those books that was beautiful in its sadness if that makes any sense. I didn’t think it was entirely successful as a novel, but I did think Bender painted a really interesting portrait of a family that is slowly falling apart.

  7. Julie P. says:

    I agree with you. I think the cover was almost misleading because I wasn’t expecting such a serious book.

  8. bermudaonion says:

    Oh, that’s too bad – I had high hopes for this book.

  9. I was really interested in reading this one when it first came out but more and more I hear of reviews such as yours about all the sorrowfulness and I just don’t know…Obviously you’d have to be in a certain frame of mind to read this book. I may give it a try one day but for now I’ll hold off. I really enjoyed your review!

  10. Nymeth says:

    I’ve seen some mixed reviews of this one, but I suspect I’d enjoy it quite a bit. I like what Steph said about there being beauty in the sadness!

  11. Elisabeth says:

    I enjoyed this book, did not think it soooo sad. I liked it because it was different and the characters quirky. If you have not read it , I would definitely give it a try.

  12. Staci says:

    I have a copy of this one and even though it left you sad and despondent I’m curious to learn more about Rose and the other characters.

  13. Any book that would do that to a good lemon cake is not for me. On the other hand, it might make a good motivational tool for dieting.

  14. Jenners says:

    Sounds like a very melancholy books. Good thing for me I’m not a big fan of lemon cake!

  15. Alyce says:

    I usually love books like this, with a bit of magical realism, but have been seeing a lot of reviews from people I trust who are less than enthusiastic about the book. I might just have to check it out from the library sometime instead of keeping it on the wish list.

  16. Trisha says:

    I have a ban on depressing books currently so sounds like a no-go for me; but maybe when it gets sunny again.

  17. Ti says:

    I am okay with depressing books. Oddly enough, they make me feel better about everyday stuff. I’m so sorry that your love of lemon cake has been affected though. That is a tragedy of very large proportions.

  18. stacybuckeye says:

    I rad An Invisible Sign of my Own by Bender and it sounds like this one has the same quirky feel. And now that I think about it it also left me feeling a little sad.

  19. softdrink says:

    I couldn’t get past the weirdness with the brother…I wanted more explanation. The dissolving was more than my mind could handle.

    Also, no need to avoid the Starbucks lemon cake, as it’s really lemon bread with a glaze. Totally different from the chocolate frosted lemon cake. It’s important to make this distinction, as I’d hate for you to have to unnecessarily avoid foody goodness.

  20. Amanda says:

    This book is…strange. I listened to it on audio a few weeks ago and it just didn’t work for me. It didn’t feel like it went deep enough into the characterization and what happens to Joseph was just beyond the limit I could believe in.

  21. Literary Feline says:

    I’ve been curious about this book but keep going back and forth on whether to read it. I’ve read so many mixed reviews. It’s such an interesting premise though . . . And I do have a tendency to like sad books. Thanks for your great review, Jill!

  22. Mumsy says:

    I wasn’t very keen on this one, either. At first I thought the premise had the possibility for mixed sweetness and sorrow, but as it played out, it was pretty horrifying. Talk about an eating disorder! It’s a good metaphor…the way children experience pain from their parents’ wounds…but seriously, ick. Also, Joe’s “gift” made me snicker. (Which, I am guessing, was not what Bender was aiming at.)

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