In Aimee Bender’s beautifully titled book, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” the main character, Rose, has a special (if not debilitating) gift. Every bite of food she takes, she tastes the emotions of the preparer — be it a machine, a chef, a cook, or, especially harrowing, her own mother. How did she come up with that plot twist? Bender shared some food for thought.
It’s always been known that writing in the voice of a young child is hard, and yet you do so with Rose when she is nine and discovers her gift when she eats her mother’s lemon cake. Was that difficult?
Well, I sort of made up a rule that with her voice, she’s looking back at her memories, so the moments are at once in a kid’s perspective and at once in a young adult’s perspective. That’s my way of cheating.
People use the term “magical realism” to describe your writing. Do you agree with that designation?
I’m fine with that term. But the terms keep shifting! It can be magical realism and maybe it’s fabulism or slipstreams. It’s like watching the clouds go by [laughs]. But I’m happy to take them all or none or whatever.
How would you describe your work, then?
I guess I say there’s something off-kilter or it’s a skewed world or that I go through a side door. But sometimes I’ll say magical realism. I do think magical realism is done in a more epic sweep and [my work] is more of a microscopic lens.
How did you get the idea of Rose’s gift?
I think I was toying with what might be in food besides food. And what might be carried from one person to another? It had shown up a few different times [in my writing]. One friend said something about feelings as something to digest and that made a correlation in my mind.
Do you like to cook??
I really like to cook. But I’m not a particularly proficient cook.
So, no lemon cake?
I don’t bake much. I tend toward the savory.