Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Lemon Cake: Why a Chair?

  This is slice number three in a small series of discussions over the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  You can find other pieces here and here


NOTE:  This is not a transcript of the speaker phone interview. 
I am so perfectly dorky that I do not have a tape recorder,
so I just desperately scribbled a few pages of notes
and am paraphrasing the best stuff here. 
   Okay.  So, for those readers who were less than enthralled with Aimee Bender's unique science fiction, Joseph's metamorphosis into his grandmother's card-table chair was easily the most blamable element for a bad aftertaste.  Easily.  And even for those of us who got happily sucked in (I loved the entire book), this element was still, umm, different.  So different it is tricky to explain. 

   About ten minutes into our phone call with the author, the group approached her with our concerns.  I held my breath, accepting but hating the possibility that challenging such a bold move on her part could scare her off or (worse) really hurt her.  The business of creating something and sharing it with strangers can make one incredibly vulnerable, you know.  But our telephonic guest did not sound wounded and hang up; she delighted us with laughter and answers.  More proof that she has "devalued" her own voice in favor of the collective experience.  (Her word choice.  This struck me, how a talented writer finds purpose in actively devaluing her own words!)

   This may have been the point of the call when Aimee shared Bob Dylan's analogy of a cup dipping into a river of music.  She reinforced to us that throughout the writing process she just intuitively followed the story, discovered it, and then articulated it for the reader.  The details and mysteries remained as closed off to her as they were to Rose, the voice of the story.

   Intuitive is a word that whispered and echoed through my head about a thousand times as I read this book.  Anyone else? 

  The chair.  Let's back up.  Joseph clearly had a skill, like his sister and, as we would soon discover, their father and grandfather.  Joseph's skill was the ability to disappear, blend into his surroundings, and eventually morph into furniture. 

   Why not a beautiful table or an armoire?  Why a chair?  For some reason this rubbed a few readers wrong, even those who boast a fertile imagination.

   Aimee described her choice of a chair by asking us what is more personal than where one sits?  And when asked, why not a chair built and carved by his woodworking mother, Aimee proposed that the grandmother's humble, mechanical chair was far more removed, less intimate, not only because of her physical separation from the family but also because of their mother's great chasm of emotional distance from her.  And let's not forget that Joseph had worked hard to extricate himself from his mother's life during all of those "incestuous" Sunday evenings spent removing splinters.

   I would like to humbly submit that both Rose and Joseph had distance from their grandmother imposed on them by their mother, that it was not their choice at all.  So Joseph might have made his choice of furniture based on a yearning to connect.  Bitterness is a burden we can place on loved ones unfairly, without even trying.

   The group discussed Joseph's method, his practicing and perfecting of metamorphosis, and the unmistakable odor of suicide in what he finally accomplished.  How interesting it is that he chose to stay as a chair rather than leave through the exterior door his mother had supposedly built just for him.  We assessed the powerful, ghostly sight of an empty chair at home and the portability and quietness of the chair for Rose, who intended to keep him near her, albeit in a supply closet at work. 
   Aimee expressed with painful precision the messages that are conveyed by an empty chair.  She pointed out to us what maybe we should have known instinctively: that a chair is one of the most personal pieces of furniture in a home, that seeing where a departed loved one has sat can remind you of his or her absence.  This washed over me suddenly, almost violently, knowing so well the impact of seeing empty chairs at our own dinner table now, missing the girls as we do.

   There is more to come, folks.  This may seem a bit tedious for one book review, but I personally cannot overstate the effect this book had on me.  Love me some Lemon Cake.  See you soon!

1 comment:

  1. This post made me want to read the book again. I have 2 chairs that belonged to my Mom that I refuse to part with, and one of my Dad's. Perhaps I was too close to those feelings to see the significance at the time. Hmm. Now I'm feeling introspective.


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