Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

I'm just going to preface my review with the fact that I read this entire book in sunny, sunny California.  Most of it while sitting or laying in the sand by the ocean, with NO kids.  It was the perfect setting for this book.  I totally believe in books fitting your mood, and maybe if I was in my normal life chaos, I might not have been as taken in.
That being said, I really liked this book!  The premise is very creative, and allows the book to read more like short stories than a novel.  Each chapter follows one member of a cooking class.  Not just any cooking class, but these amazing ones taught by Lillian who gets food, and seeks to teach her class about "Essential Ingredients."  The first chapter gives us a glimpse into her sad childhood, and perspective into her love affair with cooking.  "It was the cooking that occurred in her friends' homes that fascinated Lillian."

The food is described romantically.  I can't think of a word that fits it better.  "The flavor opened like a flower across his tongue, soft and sweet."  And, "the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness."  See what I mean?  And I love this description, "he was full of philosophy, his favorite class of the previous term, reciting passages of Plato and Kant as if they had just been written and he the first to find them."  I love that kind of passion for knowledge or litereature.

As the characters cook with each other, they support and love one another.  This can sometimes feel contrived, but I bought into it.  They pass on the things they know to each other.  "Life is beautiful.  Some people just remind you of that more than others." 

Isabelle, the oldest student, is dealing with losing her memory.  She describes, "Our bodies carry our memories of them, in our muscles, in our skin, in our bones.  My children are right here.' She pointed to the inside curve of her elbow. 'Where I held them when they were babies.  Even if there comes a time when I don't know who they are anymore, I believe I will feel them here.'  She's talking to a younger man who is grieving, and I thought it was a sweet exchange.

I liked it from the beginning.  The writing is smart, and the characters are interesting and real, if a little romanticized.

Erica Bauermeister lives in Seattle, and this book is set in the Northwest, without disclosing a specific city that I remember.  If you live here too, you know how true this is:  "It was a clear, cold evening in early February, the end of a miraculously blue day blown in from the north like a celebration.  People in the Northwest tended to greet such weather with a child's sense of joy."  That's exactly how it was here yesterday!


Tales of a Trophy WIfe said...

I agree w/ you about how when and where being a big part of whether or not you liked a book. I'm adding this one to my list.

Amy said...

I am so glad you liked the book! I don't like contrived connections in books, but somehow this made sense because they were part of each others' lives through the class. This book makes me happy!