When I did a Google search for The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, one of the first things that caught my eye was a quotation from a review of Aimee Bender’s 2010 novel on NPR: “The characters in Aimee Bender’s latest novel could be modern-day descendants of J.D. Salinger’s Glass family.” Anyone familiar with Salinger’s work, particularly the Glass family featured in Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, and Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, is well aware of the intelligence, alertness, and neuroses suggested by the comparison. This comparison is fitting for the characters in this novel. The main character and narrator, Rose, is an extraordinary young woman and perceptive narrator who can taste in food the emotions and thoughts of the person who prepared it. This turns out to be both a blessing and a curse for Rose. The story focuses around her and her family. Her brother is a socially inept scientific genius, her mother a free (and lost) spirited novice carpenter, and her father an attorney. As the story unfolds, the entire family reveals itself to be much more complex and interesting than they appear to be at first glance.
I was surprised at how taken I was by this novel. Bender’s writing is spare and simple, but I was always excited to turn the page. The story’s twists and turns took me by surprise, and its ending caught me totally off-guard. This is a novel I can see myself re-reading and would suggest to anyone and everyone. It is equally pleasurable and worthwhile.