I’ve been mulling around in my head exactly what to say about this book for the last couple of days. I find that sometimes when a book leaves me mulling it’s a good thing, and sometimes, not so much. It all depends on the mulling, really, doesn’t it? If you’re mulling over some deep philosophically important question about the human experience, that’s a good mulling. If you’re just thinking, “Well, that didn’t make any sense!” or “That was a complete waste to time!” that’s not so much good mulling. The mulling I’ve been doing over this novel may be somewhere in between.
In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, we meet Rose Edelstein and her family. On her ninth birthday, Rose begins to be able to taste the feelings of the people who made the food she eats. It starts with her mother’s lemon chocolate cake. Okay, let me just say here that lemon chocolate cake sounds really disgusting to me to begin with, with or without your mother’s angst. As the book jacket tells you, Rose discovers that this “gift” might really be a “curse.”
Well, not to give anything away, but yes, it’s a curse. Big surprise there. I used to think I would pick the ability to read minds as my superpower, but really, no way. Who wants to know what people are thinking about you, or themselves, or the world in general. I have enough on my plate dealing with my own thoughts.
I read somewhere Bender’s work described as magical realism, and yes, I guess so, in the sense that no scientists arrive on the scene to investigate Rose’s abilities. She certainly thinks it’s strange to be able to taste thoughts in people’s food, but she doesn’t do much about it beside take refuge in snack food, which because of it’s high level of machine processing, tastes fairly neutral.
I guess you could also call it magical realism in the sense that her ability to taste emotions in food isn’t really at the center of the book. It’s there, she discovers it, she finds ways to deal with it, but then the book is about a teenage girl growing up, and oh, she happens to be able to taste what people are feeling.
A bit of a spoiler alert: The interesting story in this book is not Rose, but her brother. The mystery that drives it is not what will happen to Rose, but rather what’s going on with her brother. This is the part of the book I like the most. Her brother begins to disappear, and there’s an interesting mystery with these disappearances.
|Still think lemon chocolate cake looks kind of gross|
This part of the story I found creepy, and real, and relatable all at once. Sometimes I just wanted Bender to ditch Rose altogether and tell me more about her brother, Joseph. Why didn’t she? Why did these two have to go in a novel together? I wanted more from Joseph’s story than a novel told in first person from Rose’s perspective would allow.
It’s what happens to Joseph in the end that left me with the good and bad mulling all in one. The good mulling was along the lines of, “Huh. What would that be like and would I respond the way Joseph did?” That’s a good mulling. The bad mulling was, “Well, now, so what exactly happened there?” That’s a not so good mulling.
One other thing. The book is about food on some levels. About Rose’s experience with food. But it’s not very sensuous. It wasn’t very foodie to me. The food was incidental to the other things going on. And maybe that’s it, Rose can’t taste the food for the emotions, but I thought in a book with food at the center, it should have been more, I don’t know, focused on taste and smell? (I’m thinking of this in part because at 750 words, a website I mentioned before, after you finish your 750 words, one of the analyses it does is on the predominant senses in your writing…are your 750 words mostly visual, oral, tactile, olfactory? Very cool to think about.)
This novel was a relatively short read, and seems to be getting a lot of buzz. I found it interesting in parts (Joseph’s story) but overall just okay.
Do you have good mulling and bad mulling after you finish a book? Or do you mull at all?