Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I was disappointed in the first half of this book. Narrated by nine-year-old Rose, I felt as though I were reading a children's book, especially since several members of Rose's family have supernatural powers that are more like supernatural afflictions. Rose, for example, has the ability to conjure up the emotions of the people who grew, manufactured, and/or prepared the food that she eats. This aspect of the book is a variation on the theme of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. At any rate, for Rose, eating at home becomes almost unbearable, as she cannot stomach her mother's loneliness-laced meals. Rose later witnesses through food her mother's secret love affair, which does at least make her mother's meals, full of excitement tainted by guilt, more edible for Rose. Rose's detached father has a seemingly unreasonable phobia of hospitals, and her brother Joseph has a most peculiar knack that seems at first to be perhaps the ability to time travel or to apparate, a la Harry Potter. Joseph is a scientific genius, and I was sure that he had developed a means for beaming himself from place to place, losing molecules with each transformation, but that is not exactly what he's up to, and the book gains momentum as his story unfolds. The scene where Rose gets the gist of what's happening with Joseph's increasingly frequent disappearances changed my entire attitude about the book for the better. The "particular sadness" of this scene is so vivid that it is forever etched in my mind. This book is also reminiscent of Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House, in which a character's exceptionality renders him a social anomaly. What so impresses me about Bender's story is its miraculous ability to evoke deep emotion in the reader, with characters who are so profoundly fictional in their unusual talents and yet so profoundly human in how they cope with these unwanted gifts.

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