The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Aimee Bender is noted for her surreal and absurdist short fiction (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures). In her gloriously intelligent and poetic second novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, she pairs her trademark imaginative leaps with a sensually vivid realism.


As a child, precocious Rose is acutely aware something is amiss at home. She senses matters left unspoken between her parents, and something odd about her socially aloof older brother Joe, a science genius. At nine, her sensitivity to emotional cues blossoms into a preternatural gift. She tastes unhappiness in a lemon cake her mother has baked; from then on, for Rose, "every food has a feeling." 


At twelve, Rose is the only one in the family to realize her mother is having an affair. With the first taste of the roast beef and potatoes her mother has cooked for a family dinner, she realizes that the emptiness she usually feels in her mother’s cooking has been replaced by a "wallop of guilt and romance." The following year, Rose sees her brother Joe begin to "disappear" in ways symbolic of catatonia. His oddness grows more ominous after he graduates from high school and moves into his own apartment.


With delicacy and shrewd scene-setting, Bender builds through family tragedy and the revelation of mysteries toward the final chapters, when Rose tastes her way through the offerings of a warm-hearted French chef (that onion soup! that quiche! that chicken Dijon!) and begins to master her own particular art.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."