Let Them Eat Cake!

I have read many stories in which emotions are incorporated into baked goods. Those who eat that food are influenced by the emotion against their will. And the story is often that of the baker.

Aimee Bender found a new way of using this device by changing some details. In The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake only Rose Edelstein can taste emotion in food. The emotion is easily identifiable although confusing at first. What nine year old understands regret or desire?
For her ninth birthday, her mother bakes Rose a lemon cake. Rose eats two slices to be certain – it is emptiness she tastes underneath the chocolate and lemon. The PB&J sandwich for lunch the next day is hollow. Rose begins to loathe eating home-cooked meals. She prefers the anonymity and distance of mass-produced foods.
Rose doesn’t think to share this new development with anyone other than her brother Joseph’s best friend, George. A future scientist, George takes her claims seriously and wants to test them. They visit a local bakery and Rose tastes rage in a cookie. George finds out that the baker is very angry and hates the job. Another pastry is filled with speed, velocity – that baker is always running late.
Over time Rose learns that some emotions are bearable. The sadness one particular lunch lady bakes into her pizza is real and understandable. It is the confusing truths too close to home that wreak havoc on Rose.
What would it be like to know the deepest, most secret emotions of the people you love?
Rose learns many things she probably wishes she didn’t know. But with knowledge comes understanding. She makes peace with her mother’s life outside the home. Her father’s fear of hospitals points to a lineage that clarifies Rose’s ability. Her brother Joseph has his own ability, intricately tied to his inner pain.
Bender uses a magical language throughout that caused me to come to full stop at times to savor the choice. The small domestic scenes are utterly realistic but seem to shimmer around the edges. Consider:
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 he loved her the way a bird-watcher’s heart leaps when he hears the call of the roseate spoonbill, a fluffy pink wader, calling its lilting coo-coo from the mangroves. Check, says the bird-watcher. Sure, said my father, tapping a handful of mail against her back.

Rah, said the leopard, heading back to its lair.
Rah, indeed.
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