Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: A Little Sweet and a Little Tart

I'm not sure where I heard about this book (maybe in a magazine), but any book about cake is sure to whet my appetite for words. Because I am not ashamed (after forty-six sessions of CakeLoversAnonymous) any more to admit that cake and I--well, we have a sweet relationship based primarily on my unyielding desire for consumption. The kind that leaves not one crumb behind. I have been known to--no. I'm not ready to share That yet.
So I put the title on my amazon wish list, and guess what sweet-ums got me for my birthday? That's right. This book. I took it with me to Jamaica, figuring it would be a fun read (go ahead and picture me as I pictured myself in the weeks before we left: I'm sitting on the beach with a drink in my hand (the drink has a pink umbrella, okay?) and I look up and wave at Clint every so often as he paddles around in the ocean). And it was. A fun read. A very bizarre fun read.
Here's a picture of me fulfilling my fantasy:

Yes, I'm almost done with the novel at this point, and it was durn
difficult to pose pretty for Clint when I was that near the end.

So, on to the review. First, the premise: Rose Edelstein is nearly nine when she first realizes that she is not like everyone else. Her mother is testing a recipe for Rose's birthday cake and when Rose eats a piece, instead of tasting lemon, she tastes emptiness. A dark, swirling emptiness that overwhelms her.
As Rose grows older, she realizes that she can taste the origins of her food and the emotions of all who have had a hand in its journey to her plate. She knows, for example, when sitting down to a spaghetti dinner, where (city, state, plant) the pasta was manufactured, that the man harvesting the tomatoes is worried about money, and that her mother is still sad and feeling lost.
Soon, Rose can no longer eat her mother's cooking. She fiddles with her dinner and buys junk food that has been manufactured by machines--free of the taste of anyone's sorrow or concerns. It takes her awhile to learn that she is alone with her "gift," that no one else can taste what she can. And this realization isolates her.
But she isn't the only strange one in her family. Rose's mother flits from job to job, finally settling with carpentry (and sliding into an affair--which Rose immediately tastes--and keeps to herself). Rose's father has a deep fear of hospitals, keeping from directly seeing the birth of either of his children or ever visiting a loved one there. And Rose's brother, Joseph, is the oddest. He appears to be autistic, maybe, incapable of making any lasting friendship except for the one he has with George, who seems equally as gifted as Joseph but without the constraints of Joseph's impediment--whatever it is.
As the novel unfolds, Joseph grows more reclusive--even vanishing a few times unexpectedly--and Rose begins to fall in love with George, who treats her with love, but a love that is more friendly than anything else. And then one evening, everything gets very, very strange. Like X-Files strange. Transformation and transubstantiation strange.
Yeah, that's what I said too. Still scratching my head about it.

I was hoping for a book that fed my cake-lust, and this one didn't do it. It held my attention; it was very, very bizarre (especially the last 75 pages or so), but that's about it. By the end, Rose was still struggling to cope with her "gift," she learned that she was NOT the only gifted one in the family, and--uh--that other bizarro thing I don't want to tell you.
Okay, let's be honest. You're probably not going to read the book after a review as dismal as this one, are you?
Twist my arm.
Promise me cake (chocolate, please).

Joseph? He's been playing around with space and time. Star Trek stuff, right?
And he figures out how to...put himself in something else...I think.
So that one night that changes everything: Rose goes to check in on him (he's moved into an apartment, but mom is paranoid and someone has to check on him daily--and he's stopped answering his phone). And she finds him calmly sitting in an aluminum folding chair.
Okay, you're thinking. That's not that weird.
Then she realizes he's holding very still.
Then she goes to look closely at him because there's something about his ankles that looks wrong.
She lifts up his pant leg.
And his foot and the chair leg are the same thing. Like, his foot has turned into the chair leg. Like, you can't tell where one starts and the other ends.
So she panics, right? Who wouldn't? And runs screaming (quietly--don't want to disturb strange brother) to the other room to call her dad.
She's only gone for a few seconds, but when she returns, Joseph is gone.
Because (of course) (I know you're wondering why you didn't see this coming) he has Become the Aluminum Folding Chair.
And that is why Rose marks the back of the chair. Which is what you would do, right? So Joseph the Chair doesn't get mixed up with Chair the Chair I or Chair the Chair II...
Now that I think of it, I think this novel would have been much more interesting if Joseph had been the protagonist. He's a weirdie, for sure. And I like weird about as much as I like me some cake.


alli/hooray said...

um, definitely bizarre! I liked where it was going at first, but the aluminum chair part confused things for me. I'd like to be where you were reading it though!

Anonymous said...

That looks like an awesome book. I bet if it was a picture of a cookie then cookie monster will eat it all up too. haha. I also been posting to creative writing group, so please leave comments for feedback, and don't forget to check out my blogs too. Thank you, hope you having a great summer. I've been reading so great book to. bye.

Kir said...

Alli: luckily, the chair part came near the end, so it didn't ruin the book. But still. Weird.
Dustin: great to hear from you! I will check out the blog(s). Hope your summer is going well, too.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks, and sorry for leaving post that basically not directed towards what you post on your blog. I did not know any other way to contact you to let you know that I am tyring to be more involve on the creative writing blog. My summer is not bad, just been at JCC taking classes. I hope more students becomes more involve in creating writing, its a great outlet.