Not too long ago, I read and adored Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients. Liked it so much I went right to her site to learn a little more about this new-to-me author. She credits Tillie Olsen as a major influence on her writing, which is funny because I picked up a second hand copy of Silences over the holidays. I also learned there’s already a follow-up novel with many of the same characters called The Lost Art of Mixing. Because the New York Public Library is my best friend, I had the book in my hands in less than a week.
We last saw Lillian, the cooking teacher, chef and restaurateur setting off on a walk with a sweet if emotionally unavailable widower. Did they fall in love? Did young Chloe manage to find her place in the world, or at least a path? These may not sound like the most thrilling dramatic questions, but Bauermeister does the quieter dramas of life quite well. Plus, if you’ve read The School of Essential Ingredients, you care about these characters and don’t want life to knock them down for the count.
A year has passed since the cooking class. We return to Lillian’s kitchen as the smells that helped define her in the previous book now turn her stomach in the way that only pregnancy can. Things have obviously progressed between her and her fellow, but life is far from perfect now that she’s looking at it from the perspective of a soon-to-be mom, wondering how she’s going to raise a child while running her restaurant.
Where the first book dedicates each chapter to a different character, this one has a more traditional structure. We zero in on a handful of characters, mostly women, and the choices they make. Chloe is finally coming into her own as a sous chef, but the wall around her heart may be uncrackable to the misunderstood giant trying to win her over.
As for Chloe’s older roommate Isabelle, the dementia is getting worse. Older characters aren’t very common in books and when they have dementia that’s usually what defines them. I appreciate how nuanced Isabelle is. She may be losing her grip on the past and present, but she’s still a kind, intelligent woman with secret pains and a lifetime of wisdom
I’m glad Bauermeister wrote this because, as she mentions on her site, the stories didn’t feel complete. Whereas the first book really felt like the author had taken her time crafting every detail, like she allowed the story to stew for a long time, this one preoccupied itself tying up loose ends. The writing style has the same refreshingly light touch, but I cared a little less about what happens this time around. That said, it’s a quick, well-balanced read.
Foodies and anyone who tends to relate significant moments in life to food will love these books. I’m glad I read them. Looking forward to reading Tillie Olsen’s work.