In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake a young girl named Rose is suddenly able to taste her mother’s feelings in the lemon cake she makes after school—and then she tastes her brother’s feelings (or the empty void thereof) in his sandwich, then the feelings of everyone else who makes any of the food she eats.
By doing so, she gets a taste of adulthood far too early.
This concept acts as the perfect magical catapult for strong emotions, ones that come crashing in like a Carolina Reaper in your mouth, sparking up a tingle behind your eyes.
In contribution to the emotional resonance, the events of the novel unfold in a series of steps much like the baking of a lemon cake itself. Bender gathers the ingredients—the characters, their histories—then mixes them in proportions equally sour and sweet, depending on how Rose, our chef, is feeling. She is the one that leads us through the kitchen, and through her eyes, we come to understand each person in her life, their various tart and tasty complexities, like we would come to know the shape of flour, the farm a lemon grew within.
It’s these various ingredients that create the book’s conflict—the character’s personalities at times smash together, creating a combination that makes you angry, sad, joyous, and hurt, when you slide the spoon into your mouth. And yet, it’s all so very intimate, so vulnerable, just as eating and tasting inherently is.
This ratio of intimacy, the unique conflict, and the various, spread-out understandings of the characters all contribute to creating a cake we love.
In this case, the book is this cake—a complicated, layered look into one girl, her family, adulthood, relationships, and life itself, all told through one singular unique question that is recurrent with Bender’s work: what if this portion of reality didn’t really work the way you think it did?