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A Different Take on Eating Disorders!
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender
Member Name: QueenElf
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender
Advantages: Very unusual story. Makes you think.
What if you suddenly found strange things happening to you on eating food? An emptiness or hollow feeling hard to describe for anyone, let alone a young child? This happens to Rose Edelstein when she tucks into a slice of her mother's lemon flavored chocolate-topped cake on the occasion of her birthday treat. Rose is about to turn nine years old and by her thoughts she is a very well educated and thoughtful child. What she cannot explain to herself is why she feels a sense of sadness that had never happened to her before. It seemed to be like learning a new skill and one she wasn't sure she'd want to have.
Unfortunately Rose soon realizes she is picking up the emotions of her mother when she made the cake, there isn't any other way she can think of this amazing ability to read thoughts and feelings. Before long she knows her mother is having an affair and her father is so shut off emotionally that he doesn't have a clue about it. She turns to her brother, Joseph, but he has his own problems. For some reason he prefers to stay in his own room and only ventures out for school and to meet his only friend, George who shares his love of science. George is willing to help Rose explore her newly discovered skills and manages to give her some support.
The years go by and the book spreads over Rose's childhood and on into her adulthood. Joseph shows his own strange abilities and it appears that Rose isn't quite as unique in this. It doesn't help her though; she still has to come to terms with her eating problems, as anything that is cooked becomes more acutely felt until she resorts to eating out as much as possible. There's a very real possibility that her family are falling apart and when Joseph starts to go missing and George away at college, who can she turn to?
This book is written in a highly unusual style apart from the story, the author does away with any quotation marks so every sentence has to be read as written. Now I thought the author had probably used this technique to overcome the difficulty of putting thoughts into words and sentences that wouldn't normally make much sense. It also made the narrative somehow very personal, as if each character was speaking directly to the reader or including the reader in the conversation. However it was meant it did work well for me.
The next thing I considered was the feeling that the author was using the special skills of Rose as a metaphor for the lack of understanding in the family. On the surface this is a family with a working mother and father, two intelligent children (sometimes so intelligent I was expecting them to be on the Asperser's spectrum.) I've read several books about the condition and both children had the same isolation, the difficulties reading emotions on the face although Rose was very tactile. As one of the doctor's treats Rose for a hysterical outburst she asks questions that would suggest an eating disorder, but Rose is not afraid of food, just the feelings behind the cook and as the narrative moves on she can even place where the ingredients were made, much like a wine-taster.
I admit I was puzzled and wanted to find a reason that wasn't supernatural. That in itself showed how much the book was affecting me. I like supernatural stories and normally lap them up, so why didn't I want this family to be different? Could I be letting this family and their emotional problems affect my judgment? I wanted some answers and I didn't want the book to end without some rational explanation. Then I had an insight- I was looking at my own family. This leads into-
Certain things in my own childhood can arose strong emotions. I came from a large family where my father worked and my mother struggled to make ends meet. She rarely kissed or touched her children but she showed her love by cooking for them. I had a vision of my late mother with one hand rocking my sister to sleep and the other stirring a large cake mix. Other memories followed in fast succession. Shelling peas with mum, picking fresh lettuce, helping to chop up cabbage (I was barely seven). My brother and my dad being served first. Food was emotion in my mother's life. Was the author feeling something similar?
Rose is a wonderfully drawn character yet we rarely see her in any other actions outside the struggle to eat and her friends soon fall away. In any case, she's not a joiner and her brother Joseph isn't either. Her mother works but has lots of time to have an affair. She does pat Rose's head much like a puppy and she dotes on Joseph.
Rose's father is a vague image that hovers outside the story, only entering at times of trouble. We don't get any images from him as he rarely cooks and when he does there isn't any depth to his feelings to pick up. All we know is he's a lawyer and hasn't any interest outside TV and the family. Even the absent grandmother, who is the only grandparent alive, doesn't visit. This is a very dysfunctional family with a little girl who not only wants love, but also needs it. Her infatuation with George is another sign of a young girl growing up before her time.
This is a character-driven story with a plot that revolves around the family and it's strange abilities. Whichever way you read it, as a metaphor or a supernatural ability, it's a rich read full of the sadness of life when a family stops communicating in the ordinary ways. I cared a lot about the characters and the fact that I saw elements of my own family in the book shows how much it had made me think. The author has set all the normal rules of writing aside and the result is a book brim full of meaning. A heart-rending, rewarding read that would keep you wanting more. I loved it.
My copy is a library one. This can be bought at various places and at reasonable prices of around about £3.50 new. It has 324 pages and is split into short, easy to read chapters.
Thanks for reading my review.
Summary: A Lovely Read.