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April 27, 2011

Book Notes - Aimee Bender ("The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

In Aimee Bender's second novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, a young girl can taste the emotions of whoever cooks her food. Few American writers tackle magical realism with the ease and skill of Bender, and her storytelling talent again truly shines in this curious and inventive coming of age novel.

The Globe and Mail wrote of the book:

"The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is magical, but it is not magic realism. It is more robust than that. There is dream logic, and there is waking logic, and in Bender’s fiction, the two co-operate. They swirl. The result is a hybrid of dream and reality so seamless and persuasive that you will realize (or remember) that you, too, have lived your life on the outskirts of Hollywood, a few blocks south of Sunset."

In her own words, here is Aimee Bender's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake:

"Burgundy Shoes" by Patty Griffin

This song captures something about childhood, and beauty, and idealized moments-- about everything feeling lit up and wonderful on a given day as a kid, holding the hand of a beautiful lipsticked mother, but with a hint of change ahead, of a moment held in a crystal.


"Making Pies" also by Patty Griffin

Because it's a song about dessert, and about a woman's life as it passes by during her pie-making. A sad song, a yearning song, a song also about practicality and a steady job.

"This is the Day", by The The

I loved this song in the ‘80s, and at that time, I believed it at surface level: it was a song to listen to on days that were special, on life-changing days. But time passed, and after hearing that song and feeling all charged up on days that turned out to be very ordinary days, my sense of it and respect for it as a song has changed, and deepened. It seems, now, to be more about that longing for a day where everything changes, all at once, boom, everything works—or, as Charles Baxter says in a great essay on epiphanies, most of his epiphanies never led anywhere. This isn't in the book directly, or maybe it is in the first way I heard it—in that the character Rose hits a day where everything does change. But it doesn't fall into place, no. The ominous music behind the lyrics, that soaring eighties synthesizer that I do often love, that marks my high school era, is both soaring and unsettling, lifting and somber.

"Eat the Music" by Kate Bush

Because I am a Kate Bush fan, this seems like a good choice to throw into the mix—just as an example of food that is more than food. She is so wonderfully theatrical and gothic.

"Murder of Birds" by Jesca Hoop

I heard this first on KCRW, one of L.A.'s great NPR stations that always plays new music, promptly found a scrap of paper, and wrote down her name. "I'm not a bird, I'm a murder of birds," she sings, in this voice climbing up the registers, beautifully thin like it truly has gained altitude. Beauty and darkness.

"My Mother Is not the White Dove" by Jane Siberry

And while I'm on a theme, I just like and am inspired by all these transformative storylines—a person who is not a person, something which definitely came up in the book. Ovid-type storytellings, myth and legend, in song. And in fact, come to think of it, I wonder if Hoop heard this song? Because Siberry's lyric is related: "My mother is not the White Dove—she is the flight of the white dove." Gorgeous, full of longing. We are not the thing—we are the movement or group of the thing. So maybe Jesca Hoop's is actually a response, a darkened response. More on Siberry below.

Appassionata by Beethoven

A sonata I listened to, loud, in my car, driving, while in the process of writing this book. I would save it for certain special moments because I didn't want to overdo. Did it play a role in writing? Nothing directly, but it shakes me—the second movement is so ridiculously powerful. While writing the book I was also just trying to listen more carefully, to pay attention differently. It felt new to me, to be able to listen to Beethoven and feel shaken by the emotion in there. How it rockets out to the edges of feeling but is also so beautifully shaped and contained.

"I'm Looking Through You" by The Beatles

Such a great song, and an angry song, about surprises between people.

"Hot Topic" by Le Tigre

Because it is inspiring to hear a great song that includes happily shouted lists of women artists beloved by the singers… including writers! What a total treat to hear Dorothy Allison, and Eileen Myles, chanted and shouted out with joy.

"You Said Something" by PJ Harvey

A story-song, about a moment, captured in a very specific place, sung with heart-breakingly clear and light voice and just the tiniest vocal hints and nuances to indicate emphasis. And what did the other person say? I have wondered and wondered. Something very good, I think. Something that had not been said to the singer before.

"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley

I've referenced this song in a couple of interviews for the book; Buckley reinvented Leonard Cohen's already brilliant song and made a new classic with the tremulous vulnerability of his voice. I even tried to bring this into a graduate writing class to talk about voice and performance but found myself floundering, trying to talk about it. But the novel is a lot about sensitivity, or the burdens and beauties of differing kinds of sensitivities, and Buckley is such a model for that. He seems to open himself up fully—every single pore appears wide open, and it is both gorgeous and almost hard to listen to. I know he died young and it seemed to be an accident, but I also can't imagine it was easy to be him, living that way, like a human antennae for all the pain and longing in the world.

"Lena is a White Table" by Jane Siberry

I listened to The Walking a lot in the nineties, and I have always loved Siberry's amazing and natural combination of whimsy and loss. So although this song wasn't on my mind directly as I wrote the book, something about a piece of furniture with a name, told so lovingly and with her song, even gladly?, stuck with me. I didn't think of it while writing the book, and it only rose back up in my mind when I was asked to do this blog. But I just love the way her mind works, and how she courts a sense of loss without having to state it directly. I have been inspired by her combination of lyrics and musicality many times.

Aimee Bender and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Blue Truck Book Reviews review
Bookslut review
Boston Globe review
Christian Science Monitor review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fiction Writers Review review
Globe and Mail review
Guardian review
Los Angeles Times review
Miami Herald review
The Millions review
Minnesota Reads review
NPR review
O review
Oregonian review
Philadelphia City Paper review
Reading While Female review
San Francisco Chronicle review
SF Signal review
Strange Horizons review
Sycamore Review review
Washington Times review
Willamette Week review

Drinking Diaries interview with the author
Guernica interview with the author
Leite's Culinaria interview with the author
One True Thing interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Squid Ink interview with the author
Wall Street Journal interview with the author
The Writers' Block interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists