- The Particular Sadness of a Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
- Unabridged Audiobook: 8 hours and 45 minutes
- Publisher: Random House Audio (June 1, 2010)
Back-of-the-box blurb: 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.
The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
She Is Too Fond of Books‘ thoughts: Another busy, busy week … another audiobook! Despite mixed reviews I’ve read/heard elsewhere, The Particular Sadness of a Lemon Cake has remained on my wish list for more than a year; when I brought my daughter over to the library for her book group, I spotted the box on the audiobook shelf and snapped it up. I’m glad I did.
I found the story compelling – like many seemingly ordinary families in the suburbs, the Edelsteins have their share of secrets and unusual tics. The father is so afraid of hospitals that he refuses to enter them, even for the birth of his children. Mother is a hybrid of Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart; she’s an accomplished homemaker with desires for more (OK, that’s not so unusual). Brother, Joseph, a high-achieving student, seems a bit anti-social; his one friend, George, respects Rose’s confession to being able to “feel” people through their food. I couldn’t decide if the members of the Edelstein family were depressed or simply crazy.
It’s Rose’s unwanted talent, of course, that makes the plot so interesting. She is unable to bear knowing the true emotions of those who prepare her food; soon she is eating only highly processed food which she serves herself from the stale ambiguous cans from factories. Even these she knows more intimately than she wants to – able to identify in which factory her chips were bagged or from which part of Florida her orange juice originated.
Even though Rose attempts to distance herself from these unwanted insights to people, she can’t help but observe what is happening in her own family. The insights build slowly but steadily. The first person narration highlights Rose’s age and innocence; even as the years pass and she is forced to confront difficult and challenging circumstances, she remains “young.”
I can’t share more about what happens, but will tell you that there’s sadness and ambiguity. These didn’t bother me, as I found Bender’s initial premise so clever, and was determined to learn where she was taking me.
The audio recording was a bit of a disappointment; this was read by author, who put very little emotion into the reading, and has a bit of a “reedy” voice (not ideal for narrating). You can listen to an excerpt of The Particular Sadness of a Lemon Cake on the Random House website, and decide for yourself.