I am so, so thrilled to bring Aimee Bender's 2010 novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake to all of you for May's edition of 24-Hour Bookclub. Bender is one of my favorite writers; she's an incredible female voice in contemporary short fiction, having bloomed out of the late '90s boom of female short fiction next to legends like Lorrie Moore and Amanda Davis. I have read this book twice already, and when I moved to Chicago, this book was the only fiction I brought with me. My toes are tingling be able to share this book with all of you!
I couldn’t explain the synopsis of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake better than this excerpt from the author’s site:
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
When you finger the praise that followed the release of this book, you’ll notice Bender is most admired for this novel’s sensuous imagery and use of language. She has constructed something emotionally immediate. Believe it; when I first read the novel in 2010, I felt the heroine’s concerns and confusion seeped from the language into my own consciousness–much like Rose’s mother’s despair penetrates the unaware girl’s world through a bite of cake. Bender’s delicately crafted magical realism is a tool that pulls you closer to each character. With it, she shines the harsh light of intimacy Rose herself must endure, and at such a young age, too. What do you do when you know your mother hides an unanswerable despair?
The choice to love despite the disturbing knowledge Rose uncovers is the driving predicament, agent, tool, and reward of this book. Bender’s Rose is a complex first-person narrative that ages into adulthood, making this book, to me, one of the truest representations of the real world. It’s haunting.
Now that I’ve dropped plenty of contemporary literature buzz words, just know that this is going to be a fun, strange, exciting and cathartic read. So join us Sunday, May 5th! I’ll see you on the living room couch.
Kindle if you're into Kindles.
Paperback if you're into paper.