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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Cover of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
A Novel
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The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse. On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the...
The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse. On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the...
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  • The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.
    On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
    The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
    The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle).
    BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Aimee Bender's The Color Master.



  • From the book

    It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon,a warm spring day in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light
    breeze moving east from the ocean and stirring the black- eyed
    pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes.
    My mother was home, baking me a cake. When I tripped up
    the walkway, she opened the front door before I could knock.
    How about a practice round? she said, leaning past the door
    frame. She pulled me in for a hello hug, pressing me close to my
    favorite of her aprons, the worn cotton one trimmed in sketches
    of twinned red cherries.
    On the kitchen counter, she'd set out the ingredients: Flour
    bag, sugar box, two brown eggs nestled in the grooves between
    tiles. A yellow block of butter blurring at the edges. A shallow
    glass bowl of lemon peel. I toured the row. This was the week of
    my ninth birthday, and it had been a long day at school of cursive
    lessons, which I hated, and playground yelling about point
    scoring, and the sunlit kitchen and my warm- eyed mother were
    welcome arms, open. I dipped a finger into the wax baggie of
    brown- sugar crystals, murmured yes, please, yes.
    She said there was about an hour to go, so I pulled out my
    spelling booklet. Can I help? I asked, spreading out pencils and
    papers on the vinyl place mats.
    Nah, said Mom, whisking the flour and baking soda
    My birthday is in March, and that year it fell during an
    especially bright spring week, vivid and clear in the narrow residential
    streets where we lived just a handful of blocks south of
    Sunset. The night- blooming jasmine that crawled up our neighbor's
    front gate released its heady scent at dusk, and to the north,
    the hills rolled charmingly over the horizon, houses tucked into
    the brown. Soon, daylight savings time would arrive, and even at
    nearly nine, I associated my birthday with the first hint of summer,
    with the feeling in classrooms of open windows and lighter
    clothing and in a few months no more homework. My hair got
    lighter in spring, from light brown to nearly blond, almost like
    my mother's ponytail tassel. In the neighborhood gardens, the
    agapanthus plants started to push out their long green robot
    stems to open up to soft purples and blues.
    Mom was stirring eggs; she was sifting flour. She had one
    bowl of chocolate icing set aside, another with rainbow sprinkles.
    A cake challenge like this wasn't a usual afternoon activity;
    my mother didn't bake all that often, but what she enjoyed most
    was anything tactile, and this cake was just one in a long line of
    recent varied hands- on experiments. In the last six months, she'd
    coaxed a strawberry plant into a vine, stitched doilies from vintage
    lace, and in a burst of motivation installed an oak side door
    in my brother's bedroom with the help of a hired contractor.

    She'd been working as an office administrator, but she didn't
    like copy machines, or work shoes, or computers, and when my
    father paid off the last of his law school debt, she asked him if
    she could take some time off and learn to do more with her
    hands. My hands, she told him, in the hallway, leaning her hips
    against his; my hands have had no lessons in anything.
    Anything? he'd asked, holding tight to those hands. She
    laughed, low. Anything practical, she said.
    They were right in the way, in the middle of the hall, as I
    was leaping from room to room with a plastic leopard. Excuse
    me, I said.
    He breathed in her hair, the sweet- smelling thickness of it.
    My father usually agreed with her requests, because stamped in
    his two- footed stance and jaw was the word Provider, and...

About the Author-

  • Aimee Bender is the author of the novels The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake—a New York Times bestseller—and An Invisible Sign of My Own, and of the collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures. Her works have been widely anthologized and have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in Los Angeles.


  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 12, 2010
    Taking her very personal brand of pessimistic magical realism to new heights (or depths), Bender’s second novel (following An Invisible Sign of My Own
    ) careens splendidly through an obstacle course of pathological, fantastical neuroses. Bender’s narrator is young, needy Rose Edelstein, who can literally taste the emotions of whoever prepares her food, giving her unwanted insight into other people’s secret emotional lives—including her mother’s, whose lemon cake betrays a deep dissatisfaction. Rose’s father and brother also possess odd gifts, the implications of which Bender explores with a loving and detailed eye while following Rose from third grade through adulthood. Bender has been called a fabulist, but emerges as more a spelunker of the human soul; carefully burrowing through her characters’ layered disorders and abilities, Bender plumbs an emotionally crippled family with power and authenticity. Though Rose’s gift can seem superfluous at times, and Bender’s gustative insights don’t have the sensual potency readers might crave, this coming-of-age story makes a bittersweet dish, brimming with a zesty, beguiling talent.

  • The Washington Post

    "Odd and oddly beautiful....moving"

  • People Magazine "Haunting....Bender's prose delivers electric shocks....rendering the world in fresh, unexpected jolts. Moving, fanciful and gorgeously strange"
  • The Atlantic
    "Charming and wistful....[Bender] harness[es] her exquisite, bizarre sensitivity, in this haunting examination"
  • Los Angeles Times Bender is the master of quiet hysteria....She builds pressure sentence by sentence.....the crippling power of empathy"
  • San Francisco Chronicle "[A] transformative narrative....powerful"
  • Miami Herald

    "Bender has guts,,,,Rose is an irresistible narrator: warm, witty and sharply observant....quirky, unpredictable voices will surprise and entertain readers....a superb stylist. While acknowledging the dark, she maintains an exuberant, life-affirming attitude."

  • Portland Oregonian "Plenty of plot surprise, as well as numerous insights into character....beauty of the author's prose, which is both straighforward and unusually sensuous....my guess is that this novel will be one of the year's highlights. Intense and compelling, it explores familial love in an unusually idiosyncratic but nonetheless convincing manner, and I find that I'm still thinking about Rose [the novel's protagonist] days after finishing the book."
  • Denver Post "Original and revealing....unique style--part magic, part clean prose"
  • Philadelphia City Paper

    "[Bender is] a treasure: a modern fabulist drawn equally to the magic and the realities of contemporary life.....gets the details right....rich and fully alive"
  • Portland Mercury "Bender is exceptionally good at what she does.....simultaneously appealing to imagination, emotion, and intellect....the power of her writing lies in the contrast between her spare, measured sentences, and the limitless metaphorical possibilities those sentences describe."
  • Wisconsin State Journal "Bender spins this tale of magical realism with her familiar darkness....haunting....sticks with the reader long past the final page....moments of quiet brilliance"
  • Detroit Free Press "One has to admire Bender's originality and her ability to produce stories that make one grateful fro being ordinary."
  • The Courier-Journal "[Bender] writes sentences that make the senses take flight....wonderfully strange....dazzling and remarkably precise, both sensual and exacting....makes reality itself magical"
  • O, The Oprah Magazine "wacky stew of alienation and contradiction....unraveling family secrets as strangely lucid as they are nightmarish. At its core, Aimee Bender's novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake encourages us all to make the most of our unique gifts while still finding a way to live in the so-called real world"
  • Star Tribune "Bender's writing is deep and textured"
  • Entertainment Weekly "To curl up with an Aimee Bender story is to thank heaven you ever learned to read in the first place"
  • New York Times "Intelligent and engaging . . . [A] fanciful and original take on the quietly helter-skelter world that lies within."
  • Boston Globe

    "From cleverly comic to starkly surreal, Bender's audacious characters surprise and delight. Sometimes, they even make you weep."

Title Information+

  • Publisher
    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Aimee Bender
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Aimee Bender
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