Monday, November 29, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Since we didn't have to travel, our Thanksgiving was mostly about food--so I decided to read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, to make sure that I didn't stray too far from the weekend's theme. I had already been warned that it isn't a book to linger over, so I was skimming through it pretty fast. That wasn't enough, though. I should have put it down and gone on to something better. The novel begins with a lemon birthday cake topped off with chocolate icing; that nauseating combination should have tipped me off.

What really made me angry, though, is that the heroine, Rose, who can taste the emotion of the cook in the food, never really does anything with her talent, and that includes telling much of anyone about it. The final straw--and this is a spoiler, not that I think any of you need to read this far in the novel--is that the big mystery about her older brother turns out to be that he can turn into a chair. Yes, that's right; he also has a talent, and that's what he uses it for.

The intriguing premise, with someone who can do something most of us can't, was entirely spoiled for me by the extraneous angst of Bender's novel. There was no reason for Rose's mother to stay with her husband while having an affair with another man. There was no reason for Rose's father to fear his own talent, at least none that we know of, since he is so afraid that he refuses to even try it out. And there's certainly no reason for anyone in the family to care about the brother, who would rather be a chair than part of this family--not that I blame him.

The boy Rose loves, her brother's only friend, George, tells her early on that she "should become a superhero." She does not, though, continuing to hide what she can do, letting George drift away and eventually marry another woman, and generally nurturing her loneliness and angst.

I don't mind angst in a novel, but when there's no reason for it, I do mind it. Save yourself some and avoid even a taste of the sorry, sad lemon cake.

11 comments:

Karenlibrarian said...

Wow, that sounds really lame. I agree, lemon cake with chocolate frosting is a bad idea in the first place -- sometimes people try too hard to be clever. Sounds like it backfired. Thanks for the warning!

Amanda said...

Well I didn't feel *quite* as strongly as you did, but yes, I was disappointed. I agree, lemon and chocolate sounds horrible together. Jason thinks it sounds good though. gag.

bermudaonion said...

I had high hopes for this book, so I'm sorry to see it's a stinker.

FreshHell said...

Wow. Yeah, thanks for the warning. Didn't Like Water for Chocolate do something similar (only much better) with the emotions/food theme? It's been a very long time since I read that but it was good. This sounds...ungood. Pointless.

Jeanne said...

Karenlibrarian, I don't know if this author was trying to be clever or literary (because literary is always depressing, you know!) but she did succeed in creating a novel that is a pale, lemony shadow of Like Water for Chocolate.

Amanda, your warning kept me from being even more furious with this book, or spending any more time on it.

Kathy, I really don't see any redeeming features.

FreshHell, yes, I think this author is capitalizing on the success of Like Water for Chocolate. And maybe the Johnny Depp movie Chocolat.

Lori L said...

Starting with a chocolate iced lemon cake would disgust me too and give the rest of the book a huge hurdle to jump in order to redeem itself. Thank you for the tip and the review. I will be avoiding this particular sadness.

readersguide said...

Good. I was planning to.

Melissa said...

I was just thinking about this book again yesterday. I couldn't wait for this book to be published earlier this year because I love Bender. When I finished it I was disappointed, but I still enjoyed the writing (especially in the first half). But now that more time has passed, I'm just like, "Why, Aimee? WHY?" The plot completely falls apart. It's really disappointing.

Jeanne said...

Lori, I'm glad to see that others are bothered by that taste combination, too!

ReadersGuide, You are a far wiser woman than I am.

Melissa, So some of her earlier things are better? Would you recommend one in particular? Are they all angsty?

Anonymous said...
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readersguide said...

Ha! I'm just reading this now! I seem to have forgotten that I wasn't going to. Perhaps it's due to the fact that I'm currently visiting family that makes turning into a chair seem almost enticing? In any case, I'm disliking it less than I would have expected. It's sort of reminding me of Housekeeping in the way that everyone is so disconnected. I haven't finished it yet, although Joseph is already a chair . . .