A Particular Sadness

Our book club picked The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake for this month, a book that I had heard or seen little of, except for the bright but simple cover that delectably captures the first chapter of the book.  In the opening pages, we meet the narrator – a nine-year old overly sensitive girl, and her family of four.  Her mother makes her a lemon cake, then moves onto other hobbies inside and outside of the house.  The girl takes one bite and can taste everything about the person, leading to pages exposing families secrets.  The brother and father remain on the outskirts, literally disappearing and reappearing in various stages of emotional connection.

Other readers characterize this book as magical realism, and for the most part it is easy to follow, until about three-quarters of the way through, when it takes a turn for the peculiar and by the end has fallen fully into literary abandon.  The untraditional narrative quickly skips through the years of the narrators life, and the author decides not to use quotation marks to designate conversation.  The characters’ words to one another are indistinguishable from those to reader, which is interesting and perplexing at the same time.  It allows the reader to become further immersed in the senses of the narrator.

The author, Aimee Bender, writes appropriately in a style that relies on the senses, from the way certain foods tastes to the way that worn money feels like cloth.  Her descriptions are both extraordinary and common, seamlessly woven into the narrative to give it a homey feel, but in a fairy tale sort of way.  Unfortunately, I don’t agree with where she takes the book in the end.  The protagonist goes in a direction that she should have chosen all along, but the other characters fade into the woodwork.  I would have written a different ending, which isn’t to say that it would have been better, but less fantastical.

So even if this book isn’t my piece of cake, it has inspired me to consider writing my own novel, aptly during National Novel Writing Month when I am already working on a new 50,000 word collection of short stories.  I’ve participated for two years in the past, penning boring tomes about college towns and young love, trying to write in a way that makes the ordinary extraordinary, succeeding in some way less than this other Aimee, who has been published.  But if this book can make it, it makes me think that perhaps my book will be reality one day as well.

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