Aimee Bender · Book Reviews · Reviews

Book Review: The Particular Sadness of “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” (by Aimee Bender)

Format: physical, paperback
Page Count:
292 pages
Time Read:
5 days
Rating: ★★★½☆

Spoilers ahead. Review after the break.

Oh, Aimee Bender. The particular sadness that I’m feeling upon finishing this novel is most upsetting. Actually, it probably started when it ended with Joseph.


Let me rewind to the beginning.

Our protagonist/main character/narrator whatever you want to call her is Rose Edelstein, and on the eve of her 9th birthday she finds that she can taste the emotions of the person who made the food she eats when it was prepared. But don’t mistake it as an outright gift. Especially when this is how young Rose discovers her mother’s affair with another man.

In the movies, an affair is often indicated by spying at motel rooms, or lipstick marks dashed on a white collar. I was twelve when I sat down to a family dinner of roast beef and potatoes, on a cool February evening, and got such a wallop of guilt and romance in my first mouthful that I knew, instantly, that she’d met someone else. Thick waves of it, in the meat and the homemade sour cream and the green slashes of carefully chopped chives.

The backcover of the paperback made me think that she would ‘taste’ her family’s feelings through eating food that they had made, but that wasn’t the case. The only family member whose food she eats is her mother’s.

To a degree, this makes sense in terms of connecting Rose to how broken her mother was on the inside, a side of herself otherwise hidden from her husband and children. On the other hand, while this explains the distance growing between Rose’s parents, it’s lacking for a comparison between the taste of her family. There are so many metaphors within this one concept (of her ability to taste emotions) that it’s no wonder Bender is so admired. In the same case, I may never trust a dust jacket or the back of a book ever again after this one turned the tension knob up high enough for me to be interested in reading it in the first place (congrats, publishing company).

On that long-winded note, let’s skip on over to the other child in the Edelstein household: Joseph.

Joseph is your typical very intelligent, slightly older older brother who begins to shut everyone out and eventually starts pulling disappearing acts and reappearing like nothing happened. And then we find out why this is. For myself, this was only after my anger/confusion made me put the book down for a bit until my anger/confusion subsided.

But really, Aimee? A chair? Really? A chair?!  Rose and Joseph’s paternal grandfather could smell the most intimate details through his nose, and Rose through her mouth (hello, taste buds!), but Joseph…smart but socially awkward Joseph, we discover, has the ability to literally turn into furniture…and eventually stay in the shape of chosen piece of furniture?

When Rose saw Joseph once at his apartment, he was sitting on a chair with his laptop and a few moments later she came back and…the laptop and the chair were both there but he wasn’t. So…did he merge with the chair? It wasn’t noted that there was an additional piece of furniture in the room when he disappeared, so how does his…’ability’ work, exactly? I have no problem suspending my disbelief (to a point) as long as you give me something to work with, but his…ability…isn’t even explained enough for me to understand why he couldn’t stay human. If it was, I totally missed it all and hope a good (WordPress) Samaritan (kindly) points it out to me so I can understand it because I am totally lost.

I felt obligated to knock part of a star off for that immensley disappointing (and random) wrap up of a storyline. However, Bender redeemed herself a little in the ending chapters by inserting Rose in a position to utilize her gift for a realistic purpose by having her taste-test wine and food at the restaurant she works at. This particular scene puts Rose in a position where she is admired and embraced for her ability rather than feeling forced to lock it down or stick to factory-produced products. One thing leads to another and she finally steps into a field she feels she belongs: in the kitchen.

Aimee Bender is my Cynthia Rowley of books. I like most of her stuff, but there are a few pieces that just don’t seem to work for me. Apart from the Joseph fiasco, I found the book to be very satisfying, and I can honestly say I would read another novel by the wonderful Aimee Bender. Just…no more Josephs, okay?

Would I suggest this book to a friend? Yes, with reservations.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Particular Sadness of “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” (by Aimee Bender)

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