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mother has cooked for a family dinner, she realizes that the emptiness she usually feels in her mother’s cooking has been replaced by a "wallop of guilt and romance."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 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.