Aimee Bender reads The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake at CSULB
By Daniel Perez
I walk into the University Theater expecting to see a man without lips and other characters from Aimee Bender’s stories and novels. Instead I find an enthusiastic crowd with all limbs attached, waiting to see an established writer. The crowd scatters around the theater, playing with comfort as they wait for Aimee Bender’s arrival.
They chat among themselves until Professor Glatt takes the stage. Professor Glatt makes a quick but respectful introduction and turns the podium over to Ms. Bender. The audience puts those good limbs to use as they applaud her presence. Bender thanks the crowd for coming and jumps right into a chapter from her most recent published book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.
She looks fragile standing behind the podium that seems to swallow her whole, but her voice reverberates throughout the theater. As she speaks, I imagine the events on the big white screen behind her. The imagery comes to life so vividly that I can even smell the chocolate chip cookie that Rose Edelstein, the protagonist, is talking about.
However, I can’t help but think about the lemon cake—the reason that sent our protagonist on her journey. After eating a piece of lemon cake, Rose starts to feel people’s emotions through the foods that they make and prepare.
From chicken meals to sandwiches, Rose can taste every single emotion, even in the foods that have been grown or manufactured by complete strangers. She says, in a jokingly-disgusted manner, “I’m a food psychic.” Her newfound power becomes more than a burden for the young protagonist.
From the passage that Ms. Bender decides to read out of, one gets a little taste (no pun intended) of everything. The passage contains the supernatural elements, great prose, wittiness, humor, imagery, and even a touch of tension. The dialogue really delivers, and it is kept in realistic form to accompany the young characters in the chapter. However, I warn you that the dialogue is one of the few realistic elements found in the book.
Aimee Bender is no stranger to the surrealism captured in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. She first published a book of surrealist fiction in the late ‘90s called The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. Bender explains in her Q&A section that the supernatural quality found in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake originated from one of her short stories where a young boy experiences a particular emotion after not being able to feel the warmth of his hot soup.
Through Bender’s responses, the audience finds out how good and how truly humble a writer she is. When asked about the difference between writing short fiction and a novel, she says that the most difficult part was trying to put “the magic element in a longer narrative.”
As the night comes to an end, Bender’s last comment comes as advice to all writers: “Always trust your influences, even if they aren’t well know.” This is something that non-writers can also take to heart.