IT'S NOT REALLY magical realism, so we need some new name for the spooky neighborhoods, the familiar but tinged-with-supernatural-dread houses and lawns of Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Aimee Bender. I'm not up for it today, but someone needs to get to work on that.
Whatever we call it, it's appealing. Bender renders Los Feliz with the same exactness as to streets and shops with which Joyce rendered 1904 Dublin, but the lives of her characters are more like those of characters in Hawthorne or E. T. A. Hoffmann.
Rose Edelstein, protagonist and narrator of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, reminds one a bit of Mona Gray from An Invisible Sign of My Own (intelligent and articulate, but situated at an oblique angle from other people and from her own emotions), but reminds me even more of Eliza Naumann in Myla Goldberg's Bee Season.
Like Eliza, while still a girl Rose discovers she possesses a preternatural ability, an ability moreover that stirs the faultlines in her family. Rose, like Eliza, has a mother who is likely to get carried away, a father withdrawn into his own pursuits, and a gifted older brother who has trouble connecting to the world. Her family, like Eliza's, comes unglued. Like Eliza, she eventually has to decide to take her life into her own hands.
Bee Season ends before we know how Eliza will fare, but indicators look promising for Rose. Rather than flee her gift, as her brother does, or resent it, as her grandfather did, or simply do his best to avoid it, as her father does, or never quite figure out what it is, as her mother does, Rose faces her gift, owns it, steps into it, decides to make it work if she possibly can.
A bit more uplift than Bee Season, then. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'm not up for deciding that today, either.