Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Especially When Buzzed on Coffee

At first, I was predisposed not to like Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. The cover made it look like chick lit, the sort of fluffy stories about friends and family that I don't find very satisfying. The title mentions cake, which while delicious, is not especially enlightening. And then the first sentence fell flat: "It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon, a warm spring day in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light breaze moving east from the ocean and stirring the black-eyed pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes."

What's "it"? She doesn't tell us there, nor for the next six pages. That doesn't build suspense, in my book, that builds irritation. And then we find out that "it" has to do with the emotions people bake into food. I think Like Water for Chocolate had that storyline down two decades ago.

But. But. I kept reading. And, as it turns out, Bender is a beguiling author, and this story is not run-of-the-mill, and it's not light fluff either. It's a quick read, but it merits thought and savoring (like fine wine! ha! gag.). So, in the end, I enjoyed it.

Which had me excited about picking up the next book in my to-read pile. That turned out to be Granta's Best Young Spanish Language Novelists edition. I read a few stories, enjoyed them, and then bam, hit a huge speed bump with a seriously unimpressive entry. This guy gets to be the best? ... jealousy creeps in ... That's not a good, or productive, feeling for a young writer. But I know I'm not the only one who sometimes feels like that.

Take the Washington writer featured in this Post Magazine article, for example. It sounds like he's had his share of disappointments. I like that he takes issue with critic Jonathan Yardley's assertion that there is no indigenous Washington literary culture. I'm a huge fan of Yardley, but we can't just take that accusation lying down! So last night I went to my favorite cafe, overdosed on coffee, and poured out a story about local people. It felt good to write, and exciting to focus on home, particularly since so much of my fiction is about places and times far distant.

What about you, to the other writers out there? Are you writing about home?


Rowenna said...

Thanks for this post--I was considering "Lemon Cake" but, oddly enough, got put off because on the cover the cake is frosted with chocolate, and that sounds disgusting to me. Yes, I have too much time on my hands for analyzing this stuff.

I don't really write about my exact location much...but I do tend to write set in the Midwest.

Carrie C said...

Hehe, Rowenna, I felt the same - lemon cake with chocolate? Yuck! But it's worth reading.

Your writing is historical, right?

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma