Review: Lemon, by Cordelia Strube

>>Published: October 2009

>>Finally got around to it: July 2011

‘Why should you care?’ I ask.

‘Unlike you, Lemon, I like to meet guys.’

‘Do you actually want their dicks up in your snatch, Ross?’ I ask. ‘Do you get some kind of power surge when they grab your tits or do you just want to be loved?’

‘You should talk. Everybody says you’re a dyke.’

‘That’ll keep ‘em off me.’

We used to talk about other things than sex and guys. We used to have confidence. We spun cartwheels and handstands. We got A’s in math.

‘Lemon’s saving herself for the ghost of Cary Grant,’ Tora says.

***

From the back of the book: “The numbers are against Lemon: three mothers, one deadbeat dad, one cancer-ridden protégé, two friends, one tree-hugging stepbrother and a 60 percent average.” In short, Lemon is quirk personified in book form—a collection of offbeat, sometimes random, often antagonizing, vacant, or difficult to crack individuals who pass in and out of Lemon’s life to varying degrees of dissatisfaction, destruction, and death.

Cordelia Strube’s writing is tight and unapologetic. Lemon has the pacing of a theatre piece with a noticeable Whedon-esque level of comic snark drizzled throughout the dialogue. The emotionally distant but information-overloaded personality she affects through Lemon is interesting in concept, but in execution invokes a terse, ADD-like quality that hampers the flow of the narrative. It could be argued that this is deliberate, that Strube is constructing the narrative in part through short, seemingly random interludes of useless and often disturbing information as a means of building a defensive shell around Lemon, who narrates the book from the first person, but in practice it made it difficult to want to invest myself in the main character’s emotional resolution—if any is to be had in the first place, based on the sense of hope-long-in-coming that reveals itself with only the very last sentence of the novel.

I’m torn. I want to love Lemon, but Lemon doesn’t want to give me the opportunity. For every quick spark of brilliance and lyrical trickery employed, Strube delights in pushing the reader out the door again just as we’re about to squeeze our foot through the crack.

Well written and an exquisitely crafted physical product, as is the case with most Coach House titles, Lemon is as peculiar a read as the protagonist herself. Her defensive posture is based on the false sense of reason and maturity a teenager has—especially one who feels as if the world has wronged them in more ways than any one person can deal with. In that sense, Strube has succeeded on all fronts, imbuing Lemon with the cynicism and gravitas of someone three times her age and half her capacity for growth and understanding. At the end of the novel, she feels primed for change—for a new direction to ground her existence. The payoff brings the potential for light; the question is whether or not one can hold onto the sympathetic core of Lemon long enough to witness as hope replaces acquiescence.

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