Friday, April 22, 2011
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
It's not often that I write an author. As a matter of fact, it has only happened once (not counting baseball related correspondence with baseball authors). I sent Aimee Bender an e-mail after reading her first novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own. That book was really different, about a young woman with an odd relationship with numbers. I could sort of relate as I have my own thing with numbers, nothing similar to the main character in that book, and I liked that someone was able to capture the unusual workings of such a person's mind. So I snapped off a quick thank you and received a nice reply back.
I wont be writing her again after reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Not because the book wasn't good. It was fantastic. Just because, that's why.
Once again, Bender's book focuses on a young girl. The book jumps forward in time and by the end, the girl, Rose, is in her twenties. She is nine years old at the beginning. Why? Because that is when she discovers that she can taste the feelings of people in the food they make. Her mother makes a lemon cake and when Rose tries it, she finds that she can taste the sadness of her mother in it.
Growing up, she tries to avoid homemade food because of her unwillingness to taste emotion. She relies on processed foods as much as possible and somehow manages to hide her "gift" from everyone but her brother's best friend.
Part of the reason she is able to hide her ability is that her family is a tad dysfunctional. Her brother is aloof, and as he gets older, he vanishes for periods of time. Rose's father is a lawyer who provides for his family but seems to do little else. The mother we know is sad. She also seems to lack focus in her life until she starts working at a carpentry co-op.
As the book progresses through Rose's narration, we naturally find out more about all the characters and the secrets that some of them possess. A lot of what is exposed comes from her being able to tell things from food. Some of it is told to her. Some of it seems to come from nowhere. This last bit can be a bit annoying at times if you stop to think about why on earth she would know such things. I wasn't bothered by it much. The ending has good and bad twists. Unexpected to say the least. In terms of a plot, I don't know that there's much of one. Just the life of an unusual girl and her messed up family.
I do know that despite being in the middle of several other books, I put them all on hold to plow through this one. I loved it. It's my favorite work of fiction that I have read this year. It's not for everybody nor is her other book. I would even hazard a guess that if we polled everyone who has or does read it, more will not like it than those who will and I can understand that. Sure enough, on Amazon right now, there are 115 4 or 5-star reviews compared to 112 reviews of three stars or less.
If you're not sure whether to take a gamble on it, keep in mind that Bender's writing is very crisp and concise. My eleven-year old son is just about done reading it and he's enjoyed it, too. Not calling it the best novel he's read this year but he does like it. That's how clear the writing is. The book moves along. I'd say take a shot. If it grabs you early on, I expect you'll finish it and like it. You won't read anything like it.
Oh, just as a P.S. aside, one of the things that struck me about Bender back when I first read her was that she is/was part of a writing group in L.A. Two of the other members of that writing group are/were Glen David Gold, author of one of my all-time favorites, Carter Beats the Devil, and Gold's wife, Alice Sebold, author of several books including The Lovely Bones. That's some fine company to be keeping.
Training Update:I'm a mess. Today was the first time I rowed since last Thursday's ten miler. In between then and now I had to leave work early one day because of a splitting headache and I've had a bizarre twitch in my right eye since the headache. I think it's all stress related. Regardless, it's annoying.
What did I do my first day back? Rowed too hard, what else? Did just short of a half hour at faster than 3:00 marathon speed and, surprise, got tired. So what did I do then? Put in two hard intervals. And they were amazing. I did a 2:30 interval and then a 300 meter one. Why that long? I don't know. A little longer than your normal intervals of 2:00 and 250. Very little rest between the three rows. Where does that leave me? If I was tired from the long row, what business did I have smoking those two intervals? I don't know. I think I'm just fat and strong and that enables me to do what I do and not be able to what I can't. Deep thoughts.
Today's row made this month the month I rowed the most this season. Not too surprising since the last two weeks ranked 1 and 3 on the weekly chart. I don't know if I'm any better or any closer to rowing a marathon. I know I haven't lost weight. I hope to be writing more on the concept of deliberate practice sometime, hopefully next week. My practice is far from deliberate which would account for my feeling like I'm spinning my wheels. I think I am better. The intervals today speak to that. Just have a long way to go.