Release date: 2013 / 288 pages
Synopsis(from Amazon): Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .
Review: Years ago I stumbled upon Bauermeister’s Joy for Beginners and loved it so much I recommended it like crazy. Then, when TLC contacted me about reviewing The Lost Art of Mixing – the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients – I couldn’t believe I had somehow missed a novel by Bauermeister. I read Ingredients as soon as the library allowed and then promptly bought a copy for my mother, grandmother and sister. I truly loved Beginners and Ingredients equally.
So, I began Mixing with a slight sense of trepidation. Could I love this one just as much? What if the characters from Ingredients didn’t need another chapter? Also, the publisher only had a digital edition to share, which I could only manage to download onto my laptop. So, I dutifully sat at the table, crossed my fingers, and began to read.
The opening section again focuses on the character who had brought the other characters together through her cooking class in The School of Essential Ingredients, Lillian – but the tone and style of this novel is immediately notably darker, more substantial, less sensuous. Bauermeister’s signature imagery is still present, but muted.
I noticed that new characters – peripherally related to the ones from the earlier novel – appeared, and were also a bit darker (a bit seasoned by life). I did not fall in love with most of the new characters (except for Finnegan, the six foot seven par amour in waiting for the hapless Chloe), but I didn’t need to love them. This time around, Bauermeister’s writing is honed, harder, stronger, focused more on theme and hard-earned wisdom, and less on the sensory pleasures of youth and optimism.
The structure will be familiar to her fans – interrelated vignettes, which could be stand-alone short stories, but are even more interesting within the context of the other stories (and the previous novel). But this time she allows the reader to see into the thoughts of pairs of characters. The opening quote by Aesop — “Every truth has two sides” — introduces this structure to the reader and is very effective. First we meet Al — Lillian’s accountant who has a brief stint impersonating authors at book stores. Later we sneak inside the head of Louise, Al’s wife, and learn more about their marriage than Al could ever have revealed. We meet Finnegan, who is paired with Chloe, who readers will remember as the clumsy, but well-intentioned waitress who needs to leave her charismatic but dead-beat boyfriend. Lillian is paired with Tom — the widower from the first novel. The use of non-sequential dyads creates a satisfying suspense throughout the novel and while I did not find myself savoring Bauermeister’s prose as much this time, I instead flew through the pages, curious about the stories and perspectives of each character.
Here are a few examples of how Bauermeister embraces thematic significance rather than simply reveling in sensory language:
The importance of ritual: ”Rituals, however, could happen every day or be needed only once, never to be repeated — a confluence of human need and creativity, a container for a feeling that could otherwise slip away or eat you alive.”
On finding peace: “It made Chloe wonder, how much could you hold in your arms if they weren’t full of the constantly falling pieces of yourself?”
On the beauty of silence: ” Silence didn’t appear to bother Finnegan, the way it did some people, who seemed to think that airtime should be claimed like property. Jake had been that way, always reaching for the conversation as if it was the last slice of pizza in the box and the next meal was uncertain.”
On nausea: “No fever, no aches, just the roiling in her stomach set off by every smell that was brighter, or heavier, or sweeter or richer or spicier than air.”
On grief: “Lillian knew how long it could take for a person to regenerate the heart, the lungs, the sensitive nerves in the fingertips that seemed to go into the ground along with someone you love.”
The beauty of winter: “Winter was a chromatic palate-cleanser, and she had always greeted it with the pleasure of a tart lemon sorbet, served in a chilled silver bowl between courses.”
I’m afraid I cannot give away my copy since it is contained within my laptop But I hope you check out Bauermeister’s latest regardless!
Erica Bauermeister’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Friday, November 2nd: Life in the Thumb
Monday, November 5th: She is Too Fond of Books – Spotlight on Bookstores guest post
Monday, November 5th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Wednesday, November 7th: Book Chatter
Thursday, November 8th: Books and Movies
Friday, November 9th: Book Club Classics!
Monday, November 12th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, November 13th: girlichef
Wednesday, November 14th: Library of Clean Reads
Thursday, November 15th: 2 Kids and Tired
Friday, November 16th: Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Monday, November 19th: WV Stitcher
Tuesday, November 20th: Joyfully Retired
Wednesday, November 21st: Silver and Grace
Friday, November 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, November 26th: Diary of an Eccentric
Tuesday, November 27th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Wednesday, November 28th: Book Dilettante
Thursday, November 29th: Southern Girl Reads
Friday, November 30th: Peppermint Ph.D.
Monday, December 3rd: Just Joanna
Tuesday, December 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, December 5th: HopefulLeigh
Thursday, December 6th: Sidewalk Shoes
Friday, December 7th: Book Addiction