Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is Aimee Bender's latest. It's really typical of her work - beautifully written, full of pathos, very girly (did you write this book just for me, A.B.?) and has an element of magic.

Magic isn't the right word but there's something about her work that's fantastical. It might even be unique. (Gasp!) Like, in Willful Creatures, she tells a story about a woman who has these little potato children, and it's not like it's a metaphor or anything, she just has. potatoes. for. children.

In this book, the young protagonist, Rose, can taste people's emotions in the food they prepare. Mainly she's eating food prepared by her mother (interestingly, she never eats food prepared by her father), whose sadness and other emotions nearly destroy her. She tastes rage, tiredness, guilt, etc., but not just from the cook, but from the farmer or the ground itself. She eventually can tell what state or which factory her food was processed in. She takes to pushing her food around and eating junk food. One of the perks (?) of the state of the food industry is that Rose can rather easily find food that no human has created - that machines mix, process, assemble and package. She saves her money for machine-made food like other children save money for toys.
The bread distributor, the bread factory, the wheat, the farmer. The butter, which had a dreary tang to it. When I checked the package, I read that it came from a big farm in Wisconsin. The cream held a thinness, a kind of metallic bumper aftertaste. The milk - weary. All of those parts distant, crowded, like the far-off sound of an airplane, or a car parking, all hovering in the background, foregrounded by the state of the maker of the food.

This book was almost painful to read because I, like just about every American woman, have my particular food issues (x 1000) and reading about this much emotionality wrapped up around food was a bit overwhelming.

Bender's book isn't a one-trick pony, however nifty that trick might be. The story about Rose's family would have been pretty interesting without her interpretive powers. The first (and only) taste of a sandwich made by her brother reveals a horrifying emptiness, the autistic-like sibling is a mystery. (Here's a hint: Quantum Physics are involved!)

Here's one of my favorite lines:
Several of the girls at the party had had sex, something which sounded appealing but only if it could happen with blindfolds in a time warp plus amnesia.

Brilliant! Just like the rest of the book!


KHM said...

I am so buying this right now on my Kindle.

KHM said...

This was an amazing read and although I'm trying to save Willful Creatures for a delight at another time, I'm having trouble finding a good follow-on. Having read a long string of really exceptional books lately, my tolerance for "meh" is very low.

Immediately before this I read Lore Segal's collection of shorts "Shakespeare's Kitchen". If you haven't read that one, you need to. Man, I'm totally missing those characters...

Caitlin said...

Oh, I couldn't agree with you more! Such a beautiful book.