I just finished reading the most intriguing book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake , by Aimee Bender. It had such a unique premise - a little girl who suddenly develops the 'skill' to taste, in the food that someone has made, their true feelings. It's kind of a tempting, exotic idea - to almost be able to read people's minds just by eating something that they've made - or even handled, as she can tell if the factory worker is disgruntled, if the truck driver is ready to retire, if the farmer is lying about how organic his crop is. But with all 'gifts', there are some very severe drawbacks; When Rose first eats the birthday cake her mother has made for her, she is totally unprepared for the overwhelming hollowness that accompanies it, and that, she realizes, must reside within her mother's heart.
The story was both foreign - what an odd concept, when you really think about it, to be able to decipher the thoughts, hopes, dreams, disappointments, trials of a person's life by whatever part of their essence they've left behind in the food they are making - and completely familiar: hers is a mostly normal family, with mostly normal people. The way she talks about sitting at the dinner table and how each person at the table had such a distinct role to play - the brother who tunes them out, the father who pretends everything is fine, the mother who chatters away, the daughter who struggles to survive the next bite. The relationship - lack of, building of, hope of - between Rose and her father was especially poignant to me, definitely reminded me of some of the times I've spent with my dad (either of my dads, really), and the sense of occupying the same space, but entirely different planets.
The quality of the writing here was kind of startling, as well: I haven't heard of Ms. Bender before, but I've already added her backlist to my bookmooch wishlist, because she has a really excellent storytelling voice. And every once in a while, one of her sentences would just sneak up on me, pounce: Truth! Example: "After the incident in the ER, I no longer wanted to advertise my experience to anyone. You try, you seem totally nuts, you go underground. There's a kind of show a kid can do, for a parent - a show of pain, to try to announce something, and in my crying, in the desperate, blabbering awful mouth-clawing, I had hoped to get something across. Had it come across, any of it? Nope. " (p 106) "You try, you seem totally nuts, you go underground:" That sentence there sums up a large portion of my life - you put yourself out there, and if people don't get it, if people don't get YOU, then back into your shell you must go, immediately. And it takes a hell of a lot to try again.
I was greatly impressed by this book, by Rose and her family, and the secrets they all had. By the way Rose just keeps sticking her neck out there, as best she can - and by the way she maneuvers her way through when she doesn't feel strong enough to try again - those days (weeks, months, years), and the getting through them matter too. So: Excellent and intriguing story, one I think is going to stick in my mind for quite a while.