Friday, August 9, 2013

Readin': The Lost Art of Mixing

I have been a fan of Erica Bauermeister's writing since her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, came out. Her writing is lyrical in the very best sense of that word. When you read it, you can hear the words sing. Reading her work out loud is pure pleasure. There is a series of YouTube videos done by a writer is San Francisco named Mark that shows just how magical reading it aloud is. (If you have no tolerance for the occasional f-bomb, you might want to give this a pass. I think they can be overlooked.) She is masterful in writing sense impressions; when she describes a smell you can smell it. I wish for her a long and productive career, if only because I am greedily awaiting the pleasure of reading what she has written.

In her latest novel, The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica returns to a familiar core cast of characters, those of The School of Essential Ingredients, while adding in some new and remarkably complex ones. Lillian, Chloe, Isabelle, and Tom are all there. Added to the mix are Al, the accountant, and his wife, Louise;  Finnegan, the tall young dishwasher new to Lillian's restaurant; Abby, Cody, and Amy, Isabelle's children and Cody, Abby's teenage son.

I am stunned by Erica's ability to see deeply into the lives of her characters and her sympathetic treatment of their responses to the various life experiences that have shaped them. Finnegan, who grew up as the beloved son of two adventurous mountain climbers in Boulder, Colorado, is orphaned as the result of a climbing accident on Mount Everest. He goes to live with his aunt Ailis in Portland, Oregon. Ailis is a software programmer and has the quirky, filter-less personality and unwillingness to abide by social conventions common to that breed. I can imagine where Erica got her observations, knowing that she has been observing software-types for the past 25 years or so. Finnegan becomes a collector of stories, beginning with one old woman in an assisted living facility after he has broken into her empty home. He spends time with her as restitution, but it sets him on a path that grows over time.

The character development/exploration I found most stunning though was that of Isabelle, an older woman experiencing the first stages of Alzheimer's. I stand in awe of Erica's ability to live inside the head of this woman and realistically portray Isabelle's thoughts and feelings from the inside. Isabelle's interaction with her grandson, Cody, at her birthday party is one of the true gems in this book, honest and true and quite touching, as both of them are able to speak freely to one another with love and mutual caring.

Another aspect of Erica's books that I find comforting is her ability to evoke a sense of place. While the book is partially set in Boulder, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, it takes place, for the most part, in the Pacific Northwest. Having been an Oregon and Washington resident since 1975 (with 1 year stints in Connecticut, Mississippi, and now Jordan mixed in), her ability to communicate the feeling of inhabiting those environments is comforting to me. I read Mixing in my apartment in Madaba, Jordan, but had a sense of home come over me as I could easily visualize the settings.

I just reviewed all 107 previous blog-post titles and was surprised to learn that I have not written before of my love of Erica Bauermeister's writing. Though I have read all three of her novels now (Joy for Beginners is the one not previously mentioned in this post) this is the first time I have written about them. If you love fine writing lovingly done, do yourself a favor and pick up each of Erica's novels. I am sure you will be thrilled.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.