Aimee Bender's latest book left a funny taste in my mouth. I bet she wouldn't have it any other way.
Particularly in the summer, I crave comfort books -- something frothy, rather than a story that haunts me to the core. Still, I couldn't put this one down.
I've been a fan of Bender's short stories and fiction for a long time, so I was psyched to pick up a magazine this spring and see a preview of her latest, "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake." Then I saw another writer-up, then another and another and -- you get the picture. She's got a great publicist, I'm sure, but more than that, Bender had a terrific idea for this book.
It almost lived up to my expectations -- and that's saying a lot.
(read more after the jump)
Rose Edelstein's mother bakes her daughter a cake in honor of her upcoming ninth birthday. Young Rose bites into the lemon-chocolate confection and has an unsettling realization: Suddenly, she can taste the emotions of the person who's made her food.
As you might guess, Mrs. Edelstein's not a happy camper. In fact, the weight she unwittingly dumps on her daughter made the sadness that permeates this book more "unbearable" than "particular" -- but maybe that's just because I happened to be baking my own 9-year-old's birthday cake the same week I read the book and was feeling as over-sensitized as the book's main character.
In any case, it's a clever precept, beautifully written. Rose lives with her upper-ish middle class parents and older brother in the heart of Los Angeles, and Bender creates a vivid setting. It's fun (though painful) to follow Rose as she figures out how to nourish her body without going nuts. (Hint: factory-made foods.)
As it turns out, she's not the only member of her family with a "gift," and it's there that Bender lost me. Not entirely -- and here I need to be vague so I don't give anything away -- but by the end of the book, I admit I was rolling my eyes. I was also up at 3 a.m., still reading, so clearly the author did something right.
She did a lot right. If you're a "Like Water for Chocolate" fan (and who isn't?) I think you'll admire this book, though it might not sweep you away quite like its food/emotion predecessor.
Still, it offers a lot of food for thought.
Want more book reviews? Check back on Chow Bella tomorrow for another review. And all week, our sister blog, Jackalope Ranch, will have reviews as well.