The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Title: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Author: Aimee Bender
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Doubleday
Length: 304 Pages

Review by Rodra Burruss
‘When A Sandwich Screams’

It is no secret that food and emotions are fiercely intertwined. If lasagna is baked with
loving care and is transformed into a layered perfection, it’s a wonderful experience
that an individual get to partake in. But, if the cook is in a hurry, or careless, or it’s left
in the oven too long and the cheese is past its expiration date, or the sauce is bland, it
can actually ruin the rest of the day for one to chooses to taste it. So what happens when
one day you decide to bite into a rich cake, expecting sugary goodness but receive the
bitter taste of depression? And did I forget to mention that you’re nine years old at the
time? Aimee Bender takes emotional eating to a whole new frontier in this intense, subtly
horrifying novel.

Enter Rose Edelstein, a lonely child whose life is completely altered when she innocently
bites into the birthday cake her mother baked or her. Instead of enjoying the treat as most
children would, Rose experiences the gut wrenching pain and abandonment her mother
feels, which is much to complex and mature of her young age to handle. From that day
on Rose understand that she had a most peculiar, yet powerful ability. She can feel the
emotions of every single person that prepares every meal she eats. Therefore, she copes
by eating ultra processed junk food (made by factory machines) or sharing lunches with
school friend Eliza (who’s family is much happier-Rose can tell through the turkey

As Rose continues through life, it is revealed that she’s not alone in oddities. Joseph, her
ghostly and isolated brother seems to barely exist (literally), her father cannot connect
with his family and refuses to enter hospitals for fear of the…unknown, and her mother
a darkly depressed woman harbors a mysterious second life. Rose, the unwilling sage,
knows way too much about everyone yet she can hardly tell a soul as to why a mundane,
necessary function must now be exercised with grave caution.

Through fluid prose, Bender presents a calm tone that is coolly conversation and almost
comfortable. This type of narrative fits for it seems synonymous with the daily repetition
and monotony of everyday life. Everything surrounding Rose is as normal as pie (HA!).
Yet what makes the book terrifying is the fact that the author continually juxtaposes
this quiet perception with very jarring and surreal situations. (My favorite being when
Rose bites into a sandwich prepared a baker’s girlfriend, and she remarks, “The sandwich
wants you to love it”).

Bender crafts a very original portrait of family dysfunction through a war of fantastical
elements against a real environment. As a result the Edelsteins are consistently losing
their grip with structure itself, as they clash against the devastating effects of raw truth,
unexplainable phenomenon, and the societal expectation for “normality”. Every member
of the family only desires real connection and understanding all the while. This book
made me realize that in order to preserve our sanity we must place situations in real and
fantasy categories. Example: I stand on a rooftop (real) I stand on a rooftop and ascend
into the sky (yeah right=fantasy) But what if something indefinable, or “impossible”
occurs to us? How do we understand and deal with it? Phenomenon that reaches beyond
the scope of normality is generally accepted as untrue. Also, it’s a very rare occurrence;
therefore it’s never easy to deal with, if at all. Either way, if we experience this or are
witness to such a thing, we design coping mechanisms to find a way to survive with the
rest of world because we naturally want to find validation with the normal population.
So, the pain of knowing that no one actually “gets you” is mind numbing. For who would
really, truly understand?

My vote: 4 out of 5 stars

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