The Lost Art of Mixing
Erica Bauermeister's debut novel, THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, introduced readers to young restaurant owner Lillian and her restaurant/cooking school. Just as importantly, it introduced readers to the diverse group of individuals who were brought together through Lillian's cooking classes, whose varied circumstances brought them to the place where they were ready for the kind of transformation cooking can bring about.
"The title of THE LOST ART OF MIXING certainly can be read literally as about food and cooking, but the novel is just as much about the 'mixing' that happens when individuals and communities come together in new and unexpected ways."
In the follow-up, THE LOST ART OF MIXING, Lillian has come to recognize the important role her restaurant plays in the little community she has built and become part of: "she had taken over a wreck of a building and turned it into a place where people ate or took classes and remembered, or learned, why they loved each other." Lillian herself has grown especially close to a grieving widower who nevertheless keeps her at arm's length. But when she discovers that she's unexpectedly pregnant, she must wrestle with whether or how to tell the baby's father…not to mention how to cope with her food aversions when she still has a restaurant to run.
Meanwhile, Bauermeister crafts separate chapters to focus on the circumstances and relationships of a small group of Lillian's friends and neighbors. Some of them will be familiar to readers of the earlier novel, while others are new. For example, Lillian's accountant, Al, forms one of the focal points of the book. Trapped in a restrictive, loveless marriage, Al finds comfort, if not joy, in the idea of ritual, in making meaning out of time.
Time is becoming more and more confusing and unpredictable for Isabelle, an elderly woman whose grasp on reality is growing increasingly tenuous. But when she is aware, she proves truly insightful, often finding connections initially invisible to others, including her young companion (and Lillian's sous-chef) Chloe. Chloe and her co-worker Finnegan offer much of the romantic interest and tension in the novel, in a romance plot that is often surprising.
As in Bauermeister's previous effort, the focus in individual chapters is on each character's back story, on the circumstances that brought them to this place and time. Over the course of the book, however, new connections and relationships form and reshape themselves, and the plot moves forward, culminating not only in the birth of Lillian's baby but also in several other new beginnings. The title of THE LOST ART OF MIXING certainly can be read literally as about food and cooking, but the novel is just as much about the "mixing" that happens when individuals and communities come together in new and unexpected ways.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 1, 2013