PORT TOWNSEND — This one was “a high-wire act,” the author said of her latest book.
“No Two Persons” by Erica Bauermeister of Port Townsend is a novel in stories, a look inside a series of lives. The singular force connecting them all is a novel titled “Theo,” written by Alice, a young woman coping with loss and longing.
Bauermeister’s book encompasses 10 characters, counting that writer and the nine men and women who happen to come across “Theo.” The book is their commonality. It brings each of them their own form of catharsis, relief — and even new creative energy.
“No Two Persons” will make its debut tonight with Bauermeister’s free, public reading and signing at the Cotton Building, 607 Water St. Imprint Books of Port Townsend will host the 6:30 p.m. event.
About those characters.
There’s Rowan, an actor who has to start all over just as his career has taken off, due to a skin condition. There’s Lara, a manuscript reader trying to learn how to be a mom; Miranda, the artist who lives on an island in the Northwest; William, the widower who becomes caretaker to a California ghost town; Nola, the teenager who must live in a tool shed at her high school; Juliet, the movie-industry intimacy coach; Madeline, a brilliant literary agent; and Tyler, the free-diver, as in no scuba tanks, who is forced to take a different route in life.
All of these people had to re-route their lives, Bauermeister said. “Theo,” the novel, helped each one feel less alone.
There’s a sentence in “Theo”: “Wandering is a gift given only to the lost.”
Bauermeister loves when such a sentence repeats, resonating differently for each one who reads it.
She thought about writing “No Two Persons” about a book — an actual one — that her characters would pass around to one another. She changed her mind.
“It’s not about the physical book; it’s about reading,” Bauermeister said.
Instead of being going hand to hand, “Theo” moves among its readers’ minds, like a spirit, a vapor from a genie’s bottle.
In Bauermeister’s own life, books and writing have been an indispensable magic. She always wanted to be an author. The first short story she ever wrote was about multiple points of view: women from three generations.
“So I’ve been thinking about this since I was 20,” Bauermeister said, adding that the short story was “terrible” and never published.
She got re-routed from her dreams of authorship: marriage, children, a doctorate at the University of Washington, a career in teaching.
One fine day, she had an idea for a novel. It would be about a cooking school where eight students and their teacher get together for an evening course.
By this time, Bauermeister said, she’d stopped thinking much about becoming a professional author. She said she wrote “The School of Essential Ingredients” for herself. It was published in January 2009, shortly before Bauermeister turned 50.
Her debut novel became a bestseller. She followed it with “Joy for Beginners,” “The Lost Art of Mixing” and “The Scent Keeper,” which became a Reese Witherspoon book club selection.
Then came Bauermeister’s memoir about her home in Port Townsend, “House Lessons: Renovating a Life,” selected to be the 2021 Port Townsend Community Read.
The idea for “No Two Persons” came to her in January 2020. In recent years, “I saw our silos getting taller and narrower,” with little space for coexistence, she said.
Bauermeister believes a good novel is a safe place to look at, even embrace differences among people. Her desire: to write a book that celebrated those differences.
The author envisions book clubs getting together, discussing their common book selection, its various characters — and “having a wonderful time.” She has seen this firsthand.
The “No Two Persons” title came from an assertion, “No two persons ever read the same book, or saw the same picture.” This is widely attributed to literary critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972). But Bauermeister the avid researcher went looking for the actual source. She found the quotation not in Wilson’s work but in “The Writings of Madame Swetchine.”
Swetchine, a Russian intellectual, moved at age 33 to Paris and had a salon whose famous guests included Alexis de Toqueville.
“The Writings of Madame Swetchine” were published in English in 1869, about a quarter-century before Wilson was born.
“So this one’s for you,” Madame, Bauermeister writes in her author’s note at the end of her novel.
At 64, Bauermeister is embarking on a book tour that will take her to readers across Washington, Oregon and California. She’s delighted about this, since she couldn’t go on tour with “House Lessons,” which was released in March 2020, nor with the paperback release of “The Scent Keeper,” also in 2020.
Some in the publishing industry might say a writer is all washed up if they haven’t released a book prior to middle age, she added.
“I’m proof positive,” said Bauermeister, “that that’s not true.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.