Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender)

As I ate my take-out pad thai today, I tried to discern all of its flavors and nuances: the location of the farm the onions and peanuts came from, the factory that made the noodles, the deepest feelings of the cook, the creator of my meal. After reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I wonder what it would be like to feel all of these things whenever I eat.

Rose Edelstein is able to do this. She realizes she's got this talent the week she is turning nine. She tries a piece of lemon cake with chocolate frosting that her mother's made for her. "A practice round," her mother sweetly calls it, a classic example of something made with love. But Rose doesn't taste love there; what she tastes makes her feel particularly sad and terribly ill.

How can she live with this strange gift/curse? What does it mean to know someone better than they know themselves, but also know that the people you love are truly strangers to you? This coming-of-age story has a nice dose of magical realism and a profound sadness about it. I liked it, and I admire the writerly curiosity and creativity and honesty it took to tell it.

Here's an interview Ms. Bender did about her book. In it, the interviewer asks her about why she doesn't use quotation marks for dialogue. I remember noticing she had a different way with dialogue, that there was more being said underneath the words; she put the words together in unique ways to make them say more. I hadn't even noticed the technicality that she didn't use quotations marks, which tells me it probably worked for me the way she wanted it to. Ms. Bender's answer to the question: "I often don't [use quotation marks] and I don't in this book. Kind of aesthetic choice in certain way because I like how it looks, but it also feels like that line between her internal and external world is a little blurry, which I think is kind of her deal."

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