Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another novel in which food is prominent

Sorry I have been MIA again. A friend came up from Denver to see me and I didn't have time to plan entries ahead of time. But I suppose that would defeat my purposes here anyway. I like writing my entries right after I finish reading. With movies and TV shows, I like to let them percolate for a bit before I write on them but books require immediate attention.

A few weeks ago now, I wrote about a book on food. That one gave me issues with its format and its less than complete story. Today's book on food, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, gives me issues for another reason. The story follows a girl named Rose who discovers at age nine that she can taste what people are feeling when they make food. It's a talent that tortures her for the rest of her life, or at least until age 22 when the book ends. The cast of characters includes her withdrawn, mysterious brother, a loving but adulterous mother and a disconnected father along with a childhood crush who is the only person who believes her when she tells him of her talent. The book follows Rose and her family as they undergo her brother's increasingly frequent disappearances.

So again, we have a very open-ended ending. We know I don't like those. Contemporary authors seem to love them though. I haven't figured out why yet. I like to know what happens in the end, not this vague, random ending where anything could happen the day after the book concludes. I have real life for that uncertainy; I don't like it in my books.

The character of Rose gave me some issues as well. I wanted to like her; I can't imagine having the burden of knowing what the cook feels every time she ate anything. It bothered me early on that she never tried to cook for herself. I thought maybe her talent wouldn't extend to herself but it does and it is only when Rose is finally brave enough to learn to cook and face her own emotions, does she start to deal with her gift. My problem was it took her forever to come to that conclusion. Rose was not an uplifting character, or even easy to relate to as a reader. She is distant even to the reader, just as she is with her family in trying to hide from them. In that, I enjoyed the writing of Bender. Though the nine year old Rose does not sound or feel like a nine year old, you forgive that in terms of the novel's premise. A nine year old who can taste her mother's despair and longing like a physical ache just by taking a bite of the cake she baked could not remain a happy-go-lucky kid for long.

So, like I said, I followed Bender when it came to Rose's character. It is the people around her that bugged me. Her brother, her mother, her father, George, her brother's friend and childhood crush. The were in Rose's life constantly but didn't seem to pay attention to her at all. They jump in and out of her narrative in a sense. leaving a reader wondering how different the narrative would be if her mother had believed Rose the time she tried to tell her mother or if her brother had just spent five minutes taking his little sister seriously like George had. The book was uncomfortable to read in a sense; it left me feeling angry and frustrated on Rose's behalf but also angry and frustrated at her. It's a novel where you wish the characters would just talk to each other for a minute and maybe then they'd get somewhere. I find this often in modern novels with families. In order to show dysfunction, a writer makes them all strangers under the same roof with only a last name in common. It seems so easy to do and a tired narrative device. Not too mention, why do so many contemporary novels have unhappy families? Is everyone really this miserable? Maybe I've just read too many fairy tales in my life.

Overall, I'm not sure where I stand with this book. It given to me by a coworker at the library because she wanted to know what I would think of it, she was on the fence about it herself. It will be interesting to discuss it further with her and see what I say. I will return to my quest to read the unread on my own shelves now. Not sure what's up next but I'll let you know


Mitch said...

I'm just wondering about the cover. After all, if it's lemon cake why does it have chocolate frosting? Actually, that might be a good combination, but I've never seen it. And you're right, it sounds like it would be frustrating trying to figure out why it took this woman so long to try cooking herself; who doesn't know how to cook by a certain age these days?

Krystal said...

it's a lemon chocolate cake she makes which I thought was weird - glad you thought so too!

Jennifer said...

I really, really wanted to like this book, but I'm with you on so many of your points. I also felt like the book description didn't prepare me for the story so I went in with entirely different expectations from what the it actually was. (I did read an advanced copy of this book, so this may have changed.)

Krystal said...

Jennifer, I was with you on the book description - it did seem like the book would go one way and then it careened off in a massively different direction, not something I like in my books!