Hello, fellow bookies. So much for light summer reading, huh? Part Two of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake contains anything but light fare. (Warning, spoiler alert).
The author sums up some key themes when she talks about spring: “It seemed to happen in springs, the revealing of things. With fresher air, and jasmine blooms, something else new: There was the spring of my food discovery. The spring of my first interactions with my father, and Joseph’s disappearances, and my mother’s affair, which seemed to be ongoing, since I had never tasted the teary residue of a breakup in her meals.
The fifth spring of my brother, in his own apartment, alone.”
Part Two is called “Joseph” but we learn more about each member of the family and the dysfunctional sum of its parts.
First, Rose’s mother. The reference to a “sheerness to her” and “skin that people wanted to shield,” her looking “like a ghost that you might catch nude.” In other words, her vulnerability and even her intangibility, which is interesting given her son’s propensity for disappearing and the feeling in the house of no one being home. Her always looking for guidance, even from her own son, which I must confess I find a bit odd. Her desire for perfection, as seen in her homemade pretzels (“the screaming desire to make the perfect pretzel”).
Then, Rose’s father. There’s something cardboard-like about him, reminiscent of The Truman Show. The references to his only doing things that would be part of a manual on fatherhood or Rose’s observation that “he looked like the head of a corporation.” And then there’s his phobia about hospitals. I don’t get it. I’m in the dark on this one.
The marriage itself. The references to how different the mother is from the father. The discomfort on the part of her mother, a believer in “signs,” learning that her “fateful” tag sale stool discovery was all a ruse, that her future husband orchestrated it. The mother’s affair, Rose tasting guilt and romance in the food and learning the family secret of which the father and brother were unaware. The father is described as unobservant, and yet later, we get the impression from Rose’s story about the boy with the eyeglasses that her father doesn’t want to see the truth. That he’d rather (metaphorically) crush his glasses and not see as opposed to seeing a harsh or unpleasant reality.
And the family. The peculiar comment about her brother: “I wondered what he knew about the family; what he didn’t know. What family he lived in.” The reinforcing notion that while they shared the same roof, they had entirely different family experiences. When Joseph disappears on graduation day, it is Rose who unexpectedly finds herself closer to “it”—to that thing that he does which is unnamed—than her mother or George is. Everyone else is frantically looking for Joseph around the neighborhood or on the street, but Rose realizes that he’s been in his room the whole time, silently.
I am bothered by Joseph’s disappearing attempts. I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on here. It seems that he takes the “Keep Out” sign on his door and the closing of his eyes (his own private cave) giant steps farther with these experiments. From what I can gather, he slows down his body’s metabolism, becomes one with the chair (almost like a cyborg), and becomes as close to invisible as he can. This is in keeping with other descriptions of him passing through rooms without speaking, like a ghost.
Is it just me or did you worry when you first read the description of Joseph's apartment? I was not pleased to learn that it was on the second floor and that it had an outdoor hallway serving as a collective balcony.
Aimee Bender builds the suspense to a fever pitch at the end of Part Two. It’s all I could do to stop reading right there as promised. What happened? Where did he go? Did he attempt to commit suicide? Why did Rose open the window?
These are some of the questions I want to get answered. I also want to understand more about the grandmother and why there are no family visits. I agree with Miriam’s earlier comment that there is something there.