Book Talk: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

8:30:00 PM

I was left feeling...nonplussed by my latest read. I had high hopes for The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which had a captivating title and an interesting premise - nine year old Rose discovers she has the ability to taste the feelings in food - or rather, the feelings of the person who made it (along with the origin of the ingredients).

She is understandably confused by this new development in her life, and wants nothing more than for it to go away, particularly when she discovers that her mother is miserable and directionless after tasting a piece of her birthday cake. Rose, who starts off as a spunky young girl, quickly becomes sullen and withdrawn as a result of her "gift" and begins obsessing over everything she eats. That's pretty much it.

I was disappointed by the lack of development - both plot wise and character wise - and felt a little as though the author had come up with this great idea (a girl who can taste people's feelings!) but fell short when it came time to follow through. Several chapters in, Rose's issues are pushed to the side when she and her family must deal with the disappearance of her brilliant but mercurial older brother, whose story also lacks satisfying development or any sort of conclusion.

Are you ready for spoilers? Let's talk about the plot points of the novel. Rose spends her entire life isolated and miserable, and only begins to think about opening herself up and accepting who she is in the very last pages of the novel. She cannot ignore her ability, but she refuses to tell anyone or do anything about it, so she spends most of her time trying not to know the things that she shouldn't about the people in her life (like how her mother has been having an affair).

When she witnesses her brother's disappearance, she refuses to talk about the mysterious (supernatural?) circumstances surrounding it, and no one ever fully understands or discovers what happened to him. Rose believes that Joe was similarly gifted, although his gift meant that he turned into pieces of furniture. Yes, you read that correctly. There is absolutely no explanation for this bizarre plot point. And eventually, she and her parents are forced to move on with their lives in his absence.

As a result of his disappearance, Rose feels she cannot move out of her parents home, so she continues to live with them as an adult, aware of their splintering relationship and unable to do anything about it. She has a menial job filing papers and pretends to be just like everyone else. Finally, in the last pages of the book, she begins to reveal what she can do, to no one's excitement or interest. She discovers that her grandfather (and potentially her father as well) are similarly skilled, and that she's really not as much of a freak as she originally believed. She gets a job washing dishes in her favorite restaurant so she can "be around" her favorite food, made by a couple who truly love each other and what they do for a living.

The book ends with her putting the chair (that she believes is her brother) into her closet at the restaurant, and with me wondering why I spent the last several hours listening to this audiobook, of all things. I started out loving the book, but as things went on, I felt more and more disappointed, especially by the ending, which felt rushed and unfinshed. Maybe I need some time and space away from this book to fully understand it, because I'm kind of at a loss at this point. I really try not to be negative about authors and books, because I know how incredibly hard they work to get their writing into the world. Bender, I'm sure, put tireless work and energy and emotion into getting this story published. I respect both her and her work, and I recognize that there are people out there who have read and enjoyed this novel...I'm just not one of them.

Have you read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake? What did you think? Am I missing something? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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