Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

When I looked at my friends' reviews for THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, I noticed that almost all of my friends who read it gave it negative reviews. After reading this book for myself, all I have to say is that this book proved to me that you can't always trust your friends. (Sorry, friends!) Reading is such a highly subjective experience, and what works for you doesn't always work for someone else (and vice-versa).

After reading the summary, I will admit to rolling my eyes a little. "Oh goody," I thought, "an all-white retelling of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE." Of course, my skepticism didn't stop me from wanting to read it anyway. Like LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, TPSOLC is about emotions and food, and how they influence the characters around them. Unlike LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, the main character, Rose, is a passive individual in the experience. She doesn't cook the food and transfer her emotions to others; she receives those feelings. There also isn't much in the way of romance, so it lakes the passion of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE.

But did I think it was a bad book? No. Absolutely not.

When Rose eats a piece of food, she can immediately tell how the person was feeling when they cooked or prepared it; where the food was from; and whether it was organic or processed. Can you imagine how bad your coffee would taste if the barista who prepared it was in a bad mood and you tasted her frustration and annoyance? As you can imagine, this often results in highly unpleasant experiences and she avoids eating her own family's cooking after she tastes her mother's unhappiness in a piece of lemon cake and, later, the guilt she's feeling about an extramarital affair in a piece of roasted meat from dinner. The only safe food is processed food, because that's food that's made by cold, unfeeling machines, and therefore doesn't result in any unwanted feelings.

Rose also has a brother named Joseph who appears to be on the Autism spectrum, and a good part of the book is about her tempestuous relationship with him. He's her mother's favorite - a fact that she doesn't even try to hide- and that gets to Rose, especially since Joseph appears largely indifferent to his mother's affection. He also is largely indifferent to Rose, ignoring her, shunning her, or sometimes even being outright mean to her. It isn't until later that Rose finds out that he has a special ability of his own, which he has been using to withdraw further and further from the world.

I really enjoyed TPSOLC. I think one of the biggest issues that people had with it is that it's largely character driven and not a lot of stuff happens. Luckily for me, I enjoy character-driven novels (assuming I like the characters) and am fascinated by people living out their daily lives (I'm really nosy). The family dynamic was incredibly well done and I really liked how Rose's ability was blended in. It was similar enough to LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE that I kind of felt nostalgic for LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and wanted to read it again, but it wasn't similar enough that I felt like I was reading an outright copy, either. TPSOLC really provides an interesting perspective on where food is coming from and how it's prepared and distributed. Also, the sensory descriptions are amazing. There's a scene close to the end that's probably my favorite part in the story, where Rose does a "food tasting" of a quiche, and man, I have never wanted a quiche as bad as I did then.

If you enjoy stories of magic-realism and character driven stories that make you work for it a little, I think you'll like THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. It was weird, but charmingly so, and a very gentle, pleasant story that was surprisingly deep and moving. I really liked it!

4 out of 5 stars

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