In The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica Bauermeister picks up some of the characters from The School of Essential Ingredients (reviewed here in October 2011), a year after the events in that book. Lillian, owner of the restaurant that was the center of the earlier book, is living with widower Tom and has just discovered she is pregnant, something she does not think Tom, who is still grieving his wife's death, will welcome. Chloe has become sous chef at the restaurant and has begun to grow out of her awkwardness. She is living with Isabella, whose Alzheimer's is progressing.
To these characters, Bauermeister adds Finnegan, a gangly new dishwasher at the restaurant who is enamored with Chloe; Al, Lillian's accountant, and his miserable wife Louise; and Abby, Isabella's Type A daughter. All of the characters are searching for meaning and happiness in their lives, and this time around, many of them find it in a book about rituals and celebrations that Al shoplifts (while involved in a crazy "adventure" in which he goes into bookstores pretending to be an author and volunteering to autograph books). The group plans a birthday celebration for Isabella, while Louise adapts a Mayan ritual for her 52nd birthday (her adaptation involves breaking all the light bulbs in the house because Al has forgotten to buy bulbs at the hardware store). We also get back story on the various characters, and it is notable that many of them lost one or both parents early, either to death or to psychological distancing.
Food plays a smaller role here than in The School of Essential Ingredients--and I was sorry about that. But I was happy that Bauermeister moved past the artificial structure of the cooking class and simply let new characters emerge through their natural interactions with each other. Bauermeister is a talented writer; while her books are not the deepest, they offer an upbeat view of how people can make their lives work--and an upbeat view can be a nice change of pace!
They had talked into the evenings, and the separate languages of mother and child shifted into a vocabulary they could hold in common.
His grass sprawled out before him, shaggy and rough-edged, the Mickey Rourke of lawns.