Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Friday Fiction: Elizabeth Berg

--by Hanje Richards
For ten years, Elizabeth Berg worked as a registered nurse. In 1985, deciding she would heed the advice of friends and teachers who had always told her that she should be a writer, she began to publish personal essays and short stories in mainstream magazines.

In 1993, her first novel was published.. Eight novels were published subsequently, one each year, all of them national bestsellers and three of them New York Times bestsellers. Berg has also published two non-fiction books as well as a New York Times bestselling collection of short stories called Ordinary Life.

Among the honors Elizabeth Berg has received are The American Library Association's "Best Book of the Year" for two of her novels. She was shortlisted for the American Bookseller's "Book of the Year" for Talk Before Sleep, and the novel was the winner of the AMC Cancer Research Center "Illumminator Award" for shedding light on breast cancer, resulting in increased public awareness and concern.
In 1997, she was given the NEBA (New England Booksellers Association) award for "body of work." Both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library have honored her for her literary accomplishments, she is often a keynote speaker at library and other events, and she has been on Oprah three times, once because Open House was a book club selection.

Art of Mending - Laura Bartone anticipates her annual family reunion in Minnesota with a mixture of excitement and wariness. Yet this year’s gathering will prove to be much more trying than either she or her siblings imagined. When her sister Caroline confronts Laura and their brother, Steve, with devastating allegations about their mother, the three have a difficult time reconciling their varying experiences in the same house. But a sudden misfortune will lead them all to face the past, their own culpability, and their common need for love and forgiveness.

Handmaid and the Carpenter - This wonderful novel transports us to Nazareth in Biblical times, where we meet Mary and Joseph – and understand them as never before: young, in love, and suddenly faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

Aided by a great and abiding love, they endure challenges to their relationship as well as threats to their lives as they come to terms with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of their child, Jesus. For Mary, the pregnancy is a divine miracle and a privilege. For Joseph, it is an ongoing test of his faith – in his wife and in his God.

Home Safe - Story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit. Helen Ames – recently widowed, coping with grief, unable to do the work that has always sustained her – is beginning to depend too much on her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, meddling in her life and offering unsolicited advice.

Then, Helen is shocked to discover that her mild-mannered and seemingly loyal husband was apparently leading a double life. When a phone call from a stranger sets Helen on a surprising path of discovery, both mother and daughter reassess what they thought they knew about each other, themselves, and what really makes a home and a family.

Joy School - Katie, the narrator, has relocated to Missouri with her distant, occasionally abusive father, and she feels very much alone: her much-loved mother is dead; her new school is unaccepting of her; and her only friends fall far short of being ideal companions.

When she accidentally falls through the ice while skating, she meets Jimmy. He is handsome, far older than she, and married, but she is entranced. As their relationship unfolds, so too does Katie's awareness of the pain and intensity first love can bring.

Never Change - A self-anointed spinster at fifty-one, Myra Lipinski is reasonably content with her quiet life, her dog, Frank, and her career as a visiting nurse. But everything changes when Chip Reardon, the golden boy she adored in high school, is assigned as her new patient.

Choosing to forgo treatment for an incurable illness, Chip has returned to his New England hometown to spend what time he has left. Now, Myra and Chip find themselves engaged in a poignant redefinition of roles, and a complicated dance of memory, ambivalence, and longing.

Open House - Samantha's husband has left her. Her eccentric mother tries to help by fixing her up with dates, but a more pressing problem is money. To meet her mortgage payments, Sam decides to take in boarders. The first is an older woman who offers sage advice and sorely needed comfort; the second, a maladjusted student, is not quite so helpful. Her real work is this: In order to emerge from grief and the past, she has to learn how to make her own happiness. In order to really see people, she has to look within her heart. And in order to know who she is, she has to remember--and reclaim--the person she used to be, long before she became someone else in an effort to save her marriage.

Ordinary Life: Stories - In "Ordinary Life," Mavis McPherson locks herself in the bathroom for a week, shutting out her husband and the realities of their life together — and, no, she isn’t contemplating a divorce. She just needs some time to think, to take stock of her life, and to arrive, finally, at a surprising conclusion.

In "White Dwarf" and "Martin’s Letter to Nan," the secrets of a marriage are revealed with sensitivity and “brilliant insights about the human condition.”
Range of Motion - This first-person narrative describes an ordinary woman caught up in unusual circumstances. Lainey is a wife/mother/office worker whose life is suddenly changed when her husband is sent into a coma by a freak accident. The only one who believes that he will one day wake up, she visits him daily, bringing him stimulus from everyday life in an attempt to reach him.

Lainey is sustained through her ordeal by the support of two special women: Alice, who lives next door, and Evie, the ghost of the woman who lived in Lainey's house in the '40s.

Talk Before Sleep - Ann and Ruth have always talked as only great friends can — honestly, and about everything: husbands and marriages, sex lives and children, their work, their hopes, their disappointments, and their dreams. For Ann, cautious and conventional, her closeness to the outspoken and eccentric Ruth brings about discovery and liberation, a chance to say whatever she wants and, most important, under the insistent tutelage of Ruth, to become herself.

Over the years, the women have shared recipes, quilting patterns, child care, delicate and dangerous secrets. Each rests secure in the knowledge that they will be friends forever. Then, something happens that will change their lives forever, and the women begin to share something more profound than either of them might have predicted.

True to Form - Katie Nash is thirteen years old in 1961, and she's facing a summer full of conflict. Her father has enlisted her in two care-taking jobs — baby-sitting for the rambunctious Wexler boys and, equally challenging, looking after Mrs. Randolph, her elderly, bedridden neighbor. To make matters worse, Katie has been forcibly inducted into the "loser" Girl Scout troop, compliments of her only new friend Cynthia's controlling mother.

Her only saving grace is a trip to her childhood hometown in Texas to visit her best friend Cherylanne. But people and places change — and Cherylanne is no exception. When an act of betrayal leaves Katie wondering just what friends are really for, she learns to rely on the only one left she can trust: herself.

Until the Real Thing Comes Along - Patty Murphy is facing that pivotal point in a woman's life when her biological clock ticks as insistently as a beating heart. Will she find Mr. Right and start a family? But Patty is in love — with a man who is not only attractive and financially sound, but sensitive and warmhearted. There's just one small problem: He is also gay.

Against her better judgment, and pleas from family and friends, Patty refuses to give up on Ethan. Every man she dates ultimately leaves her aching for the gentle comfort and intimacy she shares with him. But even as she throws eligible bachelors to the wayside to spend yet another platonic night with Ethan, Patty longs more and more for the consolation of loving and being loved. In the meantime she must content herself with waiting — until the "real thing" comes along. . .

What We Keep - Ginny Young is on a plane, en route to see her mother, whom she hasn't seen or spoken to for thirty-five years. She thinks back to the summer of 1958, when she and her sister were young girls. A series of dramatic events — beginning with the arrival of a mysterious and sensual next-door neighbor — divided the family, separating the sisters from their mother.

Moving back and forth in time between the girl she once was and the woman she's become, Ginny at last confronts painful choices that occur in almost any woman's life, and learns surprising truths about the people she thought she knew best.

Year of Pleasures - Betta Nolan moves to a small town after the death of her husband to try to begin anew. Pursuing a dream of a different kind of life, she is determined to find pleasure in her simple daily routines. Among those who help her in both expected and unexpected ways are the ten-year-old boy next door, three wild women friends from her college days, a twenty-year-old who is struggling to find his place in the world, and a handsome man who is ready for love. The Year of Pleasures is about acknowledging the solace found in ordinary things: a warm bath, good food, the beauty of nature, music, friends, and art.