The Lost Art of Mixing explores the lives of strangers that all have common threads. It is the sequel to Erica Bauermeister’s exquisite The School of Essential Ingredients.
Lillian and her restaurant have a way of bringing 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 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 then there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect.
Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating family that is chosen, not given.
While new characters are introduced, we are also reunited with ones from The School of Essential Ingredients, whose stories were not quite finished. This is an emotionally powerful book but in a quiet way. The stories percolate, like coffee getting stronger and awakening your senses in the morning. We are exposed to moments of utter despair of these individuals at times, but Erica’s pen is kind and I found myself sympathizing with them all, despite their glaring flaws.
The one aspect I truly missed in this book was food. While in The School of Essential Ingredients food had a captivating power and omnipresence, it was barely a whisper in the background of this sequel. Consequently, I was both irrevocably caught up in the lives of people in this story and bitterly disappointed by the fact that food was not all-pervasive.
One thing that I absolutely have to salute Erica on is her impeccable execution of writing a character. You never get the whole picture but unlike other books, I didn’t seem to mind. The desperation mingled with hope and happiness is portrayed just enough to have you understand why they are who they are in the present. Not once did I find a character to be flat or one-dimensional; everyone had their medley of good and bad. Isn’t that what we all are? Just trying to make it in the world, one decision at a time and hope that when our time comes to leave, we do so with all the right regrets. Erica captures this perfectly.