Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
By Aimee Bender
(Anchor, Paperback, 9780385720960, April 2011, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

A mix of sad and sweet but overall a very compelling read.

The Rest of It:

One day, as Rose Edelstein takes a bite of her mother’s lemon cake, she is overcome with feelings so powerful, that at first, she’s not sure what to make of them.  Somehow, that one bite conveys sadness and an emptiness that leaves her chilled and confused. Her mother is… sad? Unhappy? How can this be?

Rose’s family is your typical family. At least, they appear to be. They are supportive of one another, loving and although quirky, on the outside they appear to be happily living the California dream. But there are problems, as evidenced by Rose’s ability to taste emotions and the fact that her mother is having an affair that only Rose knows about (she sensed it from her mother’s cooking). Having this “talent” is not like having a superpower. It’s a burden for Rose to feel these things so she tries her best not to feel them, by carefully choosing the foods she eats. By avoiding reality, really.

The first half of this book was wonderful. It was surreal and sweet and I found myself lost in Rose’s story, but the second half took a turn that I didn’t expect it to take and then I was in this weird place where (without giving anything away) I was like, “What the hell just happened here?”  I remember putting the book down and thinking that these folks have issues! Issues, I say! Bender manages to reel you in, and then push you away, only to reel you in again because by the end of the book, I was liking it but not quite sure how to interpret what took place within it. It’s a book that I had to think about for a really long time before I could write anything about it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is an incredibly sad book but one that was enjoyable to read. I think for the most part, me feeling that way is due to its quirky cast of supporting characters, who lighten things up and help put things in perspective.  There is also a vulnerability to Rose that you can’t ignore. The message here is that everyone has their own gifts, what you choose to do with them, can often define who you are. Good or bad. I enjoy reading books like this because they are weighty, without being dense and give you plenty to think about.

Overall, a good read.

Note from Ti: Do people really put chocolate frosting on lemon cake? I think I must be missing out.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

37 thoughts on “Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”

  1. Hmm, chocolate frosting on lemon cake sounds like a winner to me. Thanks for the review of this new-to-me book. I like books that reel me in and push me away…makes for an exciting read that keeps my interest

  2. I own this book but have not read it. I heard such mixed reviews about it that I put it on the back burner.

    And – no, I would never put choc. frosting on lemon cake, maybe just a glaze.

    1. I wonder if the cake thing was something from the author’s childhood. I don’t normally see lemon cake with chocolate on it. She is going to be at the Festival of Books in LA this April. If I go, maybe I can ask her!

  3. I haven’t read this one yet, but bought it awhile ago. I do know there is a subplot about the son of the family that is sort of weird, and I think that might be what you are talking about. I still do want to read this one at some point, I’m just not sure when. The idea that food can make you have feelings like this intrigues me. Great review today, Ti!

    1. Yes! There is a lot going on with the son but talking about it would give it away. It was pretty good. I enjoyed it even with the slight weirdness.

  4. I think chocolate on Lemon cake sounds yummy. I’ve had this on my bookshelf forever and haven’t been drawn to it, but you definitely made it sound good. On a side note I started to listen to this a while back and it was read by the author. Let’s just say, some authors shouldn’t read their books.

    1. I listened to some of it on audio too. She did a lot of “he said” “she said” type stuff that irritated me. She was sort of boring to listen to.

  5. I enjoyed the book, reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen’s books. A realistic story with a bit of whimsy thrown in. I especially liked the “twist”!

    Unlike everyone else, lemon and chocolate does NOT sound like a good combo to me. Though to be fair, I suppose I should give it a try!

    1. I was ok with the twist in the end, but it took me awhile to understand it. A unique family for sure! I do like those chocolate covered oranges that you see in specialty shops so maybe there is something this choc/citrus combo.

  6. I was of two minds about this one when I read it. It didn’t totally do it for me but there were things about it, especially the beginning like you mentioned, that I enjoyed. The writing was very evocative and lovely but there were some plot choices I did not get.

  7. I would ask why are people even putting frosting. I really hate it, but my husband eats it like it is nectar. He is amused when I shake my head in disgust!

  8. Chocolate frosting doesn’t sound good on this type of cake at all! I have a copy of this one and look forward to reading it!

  9. You know when I first saw on Twitter that you had rated this one a 3 of 5, I thought, well that’s not so great. But then I thought, wait, what’s wrong with having a good book that I might like? So it’s not profound or the most beautiful book written. Sometimes good is good enough and it sounds like this one really is worth reading.

    1. Exactly. I enjoyed reading it. It was different but not the best book I’ve ever read. I rarely rave about a book unless it’s freakin’ amazing or touched me personally in some way.

    1. I am going to have to try the chocolate/lemon thing. Gluten free probably won’t do it justice but I am gonna try it!

  10. As much as I love lemon and chocolate, lemon icing belongs on lemon cake.

    Also, I got to the end of this one and was seriously WTF?!? The whole thing with the chair blew me away. I don’t think I’ve recovered. Especially since that piece of cake on the cover was totally misleading…that ending does not go with the cutesy, happy picture of cake.

  11. I was attracted by the unusual title and the idea of feelings conveyed through a person’s cooking. The change of direction in the plot intrigues me and I may pick this book up for a summer read!

  12. I hadn’t even thought about the chocolate frosting on the cover (haven’t read the book though). I can’t say I’ve ever had one with chocolate frosting, or that I would want to. I love lemon cake with a good vanilla frosting.

  13. This is an unusual book, I started listening to it on audio and gave up. It did not grab me, maybe it was the narrator, I don’t recall. It sounded like a book I would like and it sure did make me crave lemon cake:) I’m not sure it’s worth another try, maybe reading it would be better than listening to it.

    1. You know what’s sad? It was read by the author. I listened to some of it too. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t one of my ultimate faves.

    1. I definitely liked the first half, better than the last half. It’s a book that you either like or hate. I don’t think anyone has said that they loved it. I liked it for the quirkiness of it.

  14. You struck the nail on the head with your review. I felt the same way when I read it! I was fascinated with Rose’s ability but then when her brother’s story started mixing with her own, I felt rather confused. Still, I couldn’t put it down. I’m enjoying reading your review and can’t wait to see what you have to say about Wild!

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