There is this pit that so many writers fall into…
Writer Aimee Bender will see your foodie and raise you one Super Foodie. For every perfect palate that has ever detected a hint of this and a note of that, Bender introduces young Rose Edelstein. She can not only name the origin of each ingredient, she can also detect the many moods of the food preparer in the damn-near perfect novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.
Rose’s unwanted talent rears just before her ninth birthday when her mother offers her a bit of lemon birthday cake. In it, Rose tastes the weight of her mother’s loneliness. From then on, she tastes emotions in every food made anywhere and resigns herself to the bland factory-ness of vending machine fare. She hints at what’s ailing her, but this isn’t an easy point to make to her mother, restless and in a phase of learning to create with her hands, her father, a lawyer with little wiggle room away from his grand master life list, or her brother Joseph, a seemingly autistic genius who only allows his friend George to infiltrate his loner shield.
George, though. He’s a good one. The perfect friend of an older brother. He’s smart and patient and he holds hands well and when Rose gives her stunted explanation of what’s happening in her mouth, he takes her seriously. They conduct scientific tests to better define what is happening. And, of course, she gets gaga for him.
Rose’s food situation isn’t the only supernatural event happening in the family’s Los Angeles home. As the story progresses, Rose realizes that Joseph has a way of disappearing. Now he’s here, now he isn’t. And when he comes back from wherever he is, he’s a shell of himself until he readjusts. This, too, isn’t easily explained and Rose is further isolated from the already isolated people around her. Meanwhile, she’s tried dinner and it feels like mom is banging Larry from the woodworking shop. Dad’s in the living room zoned out facing the tube.
Bender has created a really believable world where unbelievable things believably sit. It’s like normal with a click of a cog. It unfolds in the oozy-paced way that feels very realistic. We see Rose age, we see her relationships shift, we see loss — things that regularly happen with the passage of time — and then there is this peculiarity at the center of it. Meanwhile, Bender has this great style. She’s nailed the art of food writing — and carried it into the way she writes everything.
If I were to take a bite out of this book, it would taste like complete.