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THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

 

ERICA BAUERMEISTER

Contemporary Fiction
January 2009

G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY
 
ISBN: 9780399155437

 

Lillian's mother escapes the devastation of her husband's abandonment by reading, silently and out loud during times of rest, meals, even while shopping. Striving to reach through the neutralizing dead zone of this wall of oblivion, Lillian strives to reach her mother and finally succeeds after numerous failed experiments, through the power of food. Yes, food, Lillian comes to understand, literally and figuratively gives life to all who partake.

Quite naturally, Lillian learns to cook on her own and through experience eventually opens a restaurant and offers cooking classes with a two-fold purpose. It is her dream to share that same connection with life imparted to her mother through food. Now, however, she won't know who is coming to her classes but learn she will and be the conduit of teaching how nourishment, healing and love are guaranteed for those who respect the ingredients and process of food preparation.

Lesson One is about interrupting a life process and creating a new one, a tintillating suggestion to Claire, who has lost her identity to the role of mother, who begins to sense a change as she fully engages her appreciation of a live and cooked crab. Then the reader relishes how the act of baking a structurally balanced cake touches Carl and Helen, a loving couple moving beyond hurtful betrayal. Again and again, new recipes address individual stories weaving through different and similar ingredients for a Thanksgiving feast (differnt from what the reader expects for sure), a course of beauty, an immersion into sensual appreciation v. efficiency of food preparation, and so, so much more.

In The School of Essential Ingredients, the reader's own appreciation and love of life grows so much larger because of these endearing, real life characters and the succulent presentations, explanations and depictions of food experienced from a wholly new perspective. Whether you like to cook or eat food, this reviewer guarantees that every reader of this superbly written novel will savor every page, think of it long after the first and second reading, return to its celebration of characters who grow while attending this momentous class, and vicariously taste, feel and embrace this most delicious menu of culinary possibilities!

Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on February 1, 2009

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