Saturday, July 24, 2010

Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

Laura Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate was my introduction to magical realism and holds an incredibly special place in my heart. The book features Tita, an amazing cook with the ability to infuse her food with emotion. So, for example, when her sister marries Tita's life-long love and Tita cooks the wedding banquet, all the guests find themselves overwhelmed with the sadness in Tita's heart. The idea of food capturing the emotions of the chef has always stayed with me, and I think of it in particular when I remember my grandmother's baking and the love I felt everytime I bit into one of her delicious desserts. And so when I started reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, all I could think was, "this is just a bad rip-off of Like Water for Chocolate." But in reverse. Sort-of. In this book, nine-year old Rose discovers that when she eats, she can discern the emotions of the person who prepared her food. And so when eating her birthday cake, she is overwhelmed by the sadness her mother carries around, despite all appearances to the contrary. She can taste a local cook's anger, or another one's anxiety. The emotions become so distracting, and almost sickening, that Rose finds she can only take comfort in overly processed vending machine food that isn't put together by actual humans. While maneuvering her way around her strange eating discovery, she is also trying to figure out her brother who disappears at every turn (the mystery of which I just couldn't wrap my head around), a father who doesn't do much communicating, and a mother who eventually has to find her happiness outside her own family. In some ways, this was an interesting twist on the usual coming of age story. But, for the most part, I felt that Rose's "super power" was irrelevant to the rest of the story being told, and simply a gimmicky way to pull the readers in. But, lately, I've been feeling that way about a lot of books - that the little thing that makes the story semi-original doesn't really do much for the story overall. And because this little gimmick was just a Like Water for Chocolate rip-off, I think I was mostly disappointed.

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