I already gushed about The School of Essential Ingredients when I'd first started reading it. The question was, would the rest of the book live up to my expectations? The easy answer is, Yes. Erica Bauermeister's last 225 pages are precisely as well-written as the first fifteen.
Knowing that each chapter focuses on a different member of a cooking class, I'd wondered whether it would read more like a collection of short stories than a novel. The characters interact with each other, and their stories progress along a timeline with one class per chapter, so in that sense it works as a novel. But I liked it better when I thought of it as short stories.
About three-fourths of the way through I found myself . . . not bored, exactly. Complacent. Each chapter contains the steady unfolding of a new character, without much in the way of conflict. There's pain: a man who recently lost his wife to cancer, a woman with Alzheimer's disease, a teen in an unhealthy relationship. But each person's story is bundled nicely into one chapter before moving on to the next, and there was never a moment where I wondered whether Carl and Helen would start chucking vases at each other, or Lillian would run off with the produce deliverer and not show up for class, or Chloe would end up living on the streets.
If you crave a high dose of drama, this isn't the book for you. It's more of a book take into the bath with you on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a tough week, when you just want to shut out the world and bathe in Tiramisu. And a lovely bath it will be.
The Soundtrack: Sabor a Mi (on my playlist I have Los Lobos's version), because of the Mexican woman who taught Lillian so much about food and life, and because of lyrics like this:
We've enjoyed this love for so long
our souls have grown together
so that I carry the taste of you within me
but you also carry
the taste of me
Other reviews: Leafing Through Life
Peeking Between the Pages
Books and Cooks
Books on the Brain
and...(leave me a link and I'll add it, I should really learn to write these down when I come across them on the blogs I read regularly).