Saturday, January 29, 2011

Books I Love- Every Last One | Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Today I finished reading the second of two books I so thoroughly enjoyed I am compelled to write about them even though I’m concerned that my writing skills are not up to the task of accurately conveying my feelings. How can someone who is not a great writer write about great writers and their work without diminishing it? In case I completely blow it in the next paragraphs know this: wonderful books, must read.

The first is Anna Quindlen’s latest Every Last One which I finished two weeks ago but lingered in my mind for several days afterward (this is a good thing for me). Not in an ever present way like Sophie’s Choice or Skeletons at the Feast- tortured and haunted but something quieter. Something so understated that you’re reminded of the book in your everyday life.

I am bothered because I think I ought to know an author like this, not because she was a columnist for almost a decade- not a genre I read- but because I was so thoroughly taken in by this book. If you read dust jackets (as I do) then you know before the first page that there is going to be a life changing act of violence in the main character’s life. And yet you are so completely pulled into the complex everydayness of this family’s life that you are shocked when it happens. It takes a certain gift to be able to misdirect your attention so thoroughly that even though you think you know what’s going to happen you’re mistaken.

But even that talent is not where this books shines. It’s in her portrayal of life after the fact and its quietude, desperation and new normalcy. This is what sticks with me for days afterward making me stop and think about what I may have forgotten when there is nothing.

The second book is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. I finished it this morning and had to reread the final line before putting my hands over my closed eyes for a few minutes to absorb it.

This is another book that, on the surface, is about family life and how, despite what we might like to believe, there is no such thing as normal. In this case Rose can taste the emotions of the people who have prepared her food down to knowing whether the potatoes came from Idaho or Illinois and the cook really wanted to be an actor.

With a premise like this there is the potential to swerve into the freak show aspects of what could ensue from such a gift. Bender does not and instead we follow a young girl trying to understand life much in the same way each of us does only burdened with a talent she neither sought nor wants.

Ultimately what I love most about this book is that it is so beautifully about what lies beneath the surface. That we may only ever know a small portion of a person or life, even in our own family, and that strange things are all around us.    

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