The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Hardcover)
Doubleday, 9780385501125, 304pp.
Publication Date: June 1, 2010
Summer '11 Reading Group List
— Michael Keefe, Annie Bloom's Books, Portland, OR
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June 2010 Indie Next List
— Michael Keefe, Annie Bloom's Books, Portland, OR
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The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.
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.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle).
About the Author
Praise For The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake…
"Odd and oddly beautiful....moving"--The Washington Post
"Haunting....Bender's prose delivers electric shocks....rendering the world in fresh, unexpected jolts. Moving, fanciful and gorgeously strange"--People Magazine
"Charming and wistful....[Bender] harness[es] her exquisite, bizarre sensitivity, in this haunting examination"-- The Atlantic
Bender is the master of quiet hysteria....She builds pressure sentence by sentence.....the crippling power of empathy"--Los Angeles Times
"[A] transformative narrative....powerful"--San Francisco Chronicle
"Extraordinary.... a complicated novel with significant emotional heft....The delicacy with which Bender captures Rose’s tastes makes this not just a deeply felt novel but one of the most inventive pieces of food writing in recent memory."--Time Out New York
"The fairy-tale elements in her writing, far from seeming outlandish, highlight the everyday nature of her characters' flaws and struggles. In Ms. Bender's stories and novels, relationships and mundane activities take on mythic qualities."--Wall Street Journal
"Bender has guts,,,,Rose is an irresistible narrator: warm, witty and sharply observant....quirky, unpredictable voices will surprise and entertain readers....a superb stylist. While acknowledging the dark, she maintains an exuberant, life-affirming attitude."--Miami Herald
"Plenty of plot surprise, as well as numerous insights into character....beauty of the author's prose, which is both straighforward and unusually sensuous....my guess is that this novel will be one of the year's highlights. Intense and compelling, it explores familial love in an unusually idiosyncratic but nonetheless convincing manner, and I find that I'm still thinking about Rose [the novel's protagonist] days after finishing the book."--Portland Oregonian
"Dreamy....Playful prose....one of the most pleasant books we've read all year"--New York Observer
"A funny, haunting, hurting, coming-of-age story"--Christian Science Monitor
"Original and revealing....unique style--part magic, part clean prose"--Denver Post
"[Bender is] a treasure: a modern fabulist drawn equally to the magic and the realities of contemporary life.....gets the details right....rich and fully alive"--Philadelphia City Paper
"Bender is exceptionally good at what she does.....simultaneously appealing to imagination, emotion, and intellect....the power of her writing lies in the contrast between her spare, measured sentences, and the limitless metaphorical possibilities those sentences describe."---Portland Mercury
"Bender spins this tale of magical realism with her familiar darkness....haunting....sticks with the reader long past the final page....moments of quiet brilliance"--Wisconsin State Journal
"One has to admire Bender's originality and her ability to produce stories that make one grateful fro being ordinary."--Detroit Free Press
"[Bender] writes sentences that make the senses take flight....wonderfully strange....dazzling and remarkably precise, both sensual and exacting....makes reality itself magical"-- The Courier-Journal
"wacky stew of alienation and contradiction....unraveling family secrets as strangely lucid as they are nightmarish. At its core, Aimee Bender's novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake encourages us all to make the most of our unique gifts while still finding a way to live in the so-called real world"--O, The Oprah Magazine
"Bender's writing is deep and textured"--Star Tribune
"High-hearted and soulful.... weaves elaborate surreal elements....sets up her central metaphor brilliantly"-- NPR.org
"Taking her very personal brand of pessimistic magical realism to new heights (or depths), Bender's second novel....carreens splendidly through an obstacle course of pathological, fantastical neuroses.....[Bender] emerges as more a spelunker of the human soul....plumbs an emotionally crippled family with power and authenticity....brimming with a zesty, beguiling talent."--Publishers Weekly
“[Bender] is Hemingway on an acid trip; her choices are twisted, both ethereal and surprisingly weighty . . . Terrifyingly lovely.” —Los Angeles Times
“To curl up with an Aimee Bender story is to thank heaven you ever learned to read in the first place” —Entertainment Weekly
“New, exciting, harsh, rugged, and unyielding . . . Every sentence in [Willful Creatures] is a fresh surprise.” —Washington Post
An Invisible Sign of My Own
“Intelligent and engaging . . . [A] fanciful and original take on the quietly helter-skelter world that lies within.” —New York Times
“An achingly idiosyncratic story . . . rendered . . . with eloquence, hilarity, and ominous precision.” —Boston Globe
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
“Makes you grateful for the very existence of language” —San Francisco Chronicle
“From cleverly comic to starkly surreal, Bender’s audacious characters surprise and delight. Sometimes, they even make you weep.” —Boston Globe
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Rose goes through life feeling people’s emotions through their food. Many eat to feel happy and comforted. Does this extreme sensory experience bring any happiness to Rose or only sadness?
- What does Rose mean when she says her dad always seemed like a guest to her? How does this play out in the rest of the novel?
- “Mom's smiles were so full of feeling that people leaned back a little when she greeted them. It was hard to know just how much was being offered.” What does Rose mean and how does this trait affect the mother’s relationships?
- Why do you think the dad like medical dramas but hate hospitals?
- Rose says, “Mom loved my brother more. Not that she didn’t love me-- I felt the wash of her love everyday, pouring over me, but it was a different kind, siphoned from a different, and tamer, body of water. I was her darling daughter; Joseph was her it.” Do you think Rose is right in her estimation and why do you think the mother might feel this way?
- What does the grandmother suggest when she tells Rose “you don’t even know me, How can you love me?” How has the grandmother’s relationship with Rose’s own mother affected the family dynamic?
- What is Joseph trying to accomplish by drawing a ‘perfect’ circle when it, by very definition, is impossible? How does George’s idea to create wallpaper out of the imperfections affect him? How does validation and affection through art recur in the novel and what does it signify?
- Why does George suddenly conclude Rose’s gift isn’t really a problem and stops investigating it?
- What is the significance of the mother’s commitment to carpentry (compared to other, short-lived hobbies)? How does this play out in the rest of the novel?
- What is the impact of Rose's discovery about her father's skills? Did this change the way you see the father?
- Joseph is described as a desert and geode while Rose is a rainforest and sea glass. Discuss the implications.
- Why does Rose want to keep the thread-bare footstool of her parents’ courtship instead of having her mother make her a new one?
- Are the family dinners—with Joseph reading, the dad eating, Rose silently trying to survive the meal and the mom talking non-stop—emblematic of the family dynamic? How has it evolved over the years?
- How did you experience the scene in Joseph's room, when Rose goes to see him? What did that experience mean to Rose? Is there any significance to Joseph choosing a card table chair?
- What does the last image about the trees have to do with this family? How do you interpret the last line of the novel?