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Adolescent Katie spends the lazy days of summer waiting for life to begin; waiting for womanhood to begin; waiting to fall in love; and waiting for the beatings to stop. Since the death of her mother, she and her sister have struggled to understand their father's violent behavior. Soon an adventure will transform Katie's life.
“RADIANT . . . STARTLING AND DELICATE.”
—The Boston Globe
“Elizabeth Berg writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, loneliness, love and hope. And the transcendence that redeems.”
“This quietly told tale will find a place in your soul, and will stay there.”
Well, I have broken the toilet. I flushed, the water rose, then rose higher, too much. I stared at it, told it, "No!" slammed the lid down, then raised it back up again. Water still rising. Water still rising. I put the lid down, turned out the light, tiptoed out of the bath room, across the hall, and into my bedroom, where I slid under my bed.
Now I hear the water hitting the bathroom floor. It goes on and on. Niagara Falls, where the honeymooners go and do what they do. There is the heavy tread of his footsteps coming rapidly up the stairs. I hear him turn on the bathroom light and swear softly to himself. "Katie!" he yells. He comes into my room. I stop breathing. "Katherine!" I am stone. I am off the planet, a star, lovely and unnamed. He goes into my sister's room. "What the hell did you do to the toilet?"
"I didn't do anything!" she says. "I'm doing my homework! Katie probably did it!""She's not even here," he says.
"She is, too."
Oh, my heart, aching and loud.
He comes out into the hall, yells my name again. I close my eyes. "She's not here!" he says. "So don't tell me she did it! You did it! And by God, you'll clean it up!"
I didn't do it!" she yells, and I hear him slap her, and I know that next he will drag her by the arm and point to the mess on the bathroom floor. That's what I was avoiding. That's why I am under the bed. I hear Diane start crying, hear her go downstairs for the mop and bucket, like he told her to do. I open my eyes, breathe. The next time I go to the PX I will buy Diane a Sugar Daddy. I look up at the springs in my mattress. Uniform and sensible. Close together in straight lines. Spiraling gracefully upward.
We live in Texas on an army base, next to a parade ground. Every morning when I wake up I hear a drill sergeant yelling pieces of songs to the straight lines of men marching, marching, all stepping onto their left foot at the same time, all dressed exactly alike, all staring straight ahead and yellsinging back to him. Many of them have terrible complexions. They sound like yelping puppies when they sing, and I feel sorry for them in the same way I feel sorry for puppies: their pink bellies, the way they do not know what will happen to them. The faces on those men do not react; they only obey. It doesn't matter that the heat is awesome, that it rises up in shimmering waves like a live thing; it doesn't matter that later, when those men touch their car door handles, their fingers will burn or that their feet will sink slightly in the sun-softened asphalt of the parking lot. On the marching field, there are no trees. The men's skin will turn pink, then red, but they will not react. Once I saw a man collapse from the heat, fall neatly out of line, and lie still. None of the other men came to make a circle of concern around him. They just kept on marching, and in a while an army green truck pulled up next to the field and two men got out with a matching stretcher.
My best friend, Cherylanne, and I play with. the heat. We take off our shoes and, at high noon, walk on blacktop. The one who gets farthest, wins. Also, we make sun tea; and occasionally we try to fry eggs on the sidewalk. They don't cook through. The white becomes solid at the edges only. We call Riff, the dog who lives down the block and is always loose, to come and eat the eggs from the sidewalk. He does a pretty good job, wagging his tail to beat the band the whole time. Then we hose the sidewalk off. And then we hose each other off, stun ourselves with the sudden cold.
Cherylanne is fourteen, and she is pretty. I am twelve and I am not, although Cherylanne said this is the awkward stage and I could just as likely get, better. We watch.
Our houses are connected in a row of other houses, six units all in a brick rectangle. Cherylanne lives right next door to me. When we sit out on our front porches, we can nearly lean over and touch. Our fathers' names and ranks are posted outside our doors, above our mailboxes. We have look-alike bushes in the front and the back.
Before we moved to Texas, my father came home with cowboy hats for all of us. "This is not a joke," he said. "You'll have to wear these down there. It's some serious heat." My mother was alive then and he put a hat on her first. It was white. He stepped back, regarded her while she held statuestill. Then he smiled and so did she. He never hit my mother. She was the place where he put his tenderness. And I knew she loved him in a way that was huge, but also that she was afraid of him. Otherwise, she would not have laughed when she was being most serious with him. And she would have stopped him sometimes, like when he lunged up at us at the dinner table. Once, Diane was eating corn when he hit the back of her head, and the corn all fell out of her mouth. At first, I thought it was her teeth. I saw my mother clench her napkin, raise her fist the slightest bit, then lower it. I could feel an invisible part of her reach out to touch Diane, then come to hold me, too.
1. Durable Goods is a first-person narrative. What effect does this technique have on the telling of the story for you? Who is the novel’s narrator, and what are some characteristics of her narrative voice? How does Berg’s writing capture or evoke the character of adolescence?
2. Throughout the story, Katie sometimes calls her father “Dad,” but most often refers to him as “he” or “him.” It is clear that Katie and her sister are talking about their father, even though they never mention his name. Likewise, their mother also remains nameless throughout the novel. What does this tell you about Katie’s relationship with her father and the evolution of her relationship with her mother?
3. Katie’s father is a conflicted character. Though he is abusive and neglectful, he is not completely villainized. Discuss Berg’s characterizations of Mr. Nash, as a man and as a father. How did you feel about him at the end of the book? Were you ever sympathetic toward him, as Katie becomes at the end of the novel, when she recalls him standing out in the rain without an umbrella?
4. Katie is an astute and insightful observer of people and situations. At one point she comments, “Sometimes, it seems to me that the only thing in the world is people just trying.” How did you interpret this statement? How is this sentiment reflected in and woven throughout the novel?
5. There are several themes laced through the novel, such as the ways people cope with loss and grief and the different kinds of relationships between women. What are some of the underlying themes in this book, and how does Berg capture or express them? What literary techniques does she employ to convey the themes of the novel?
6. Discuss the title Durable Goods. Where is this phrase mentioned in the story, and what meaning does it hold for Katie? For her father? What meaning does it have for you?
7. The novel is shaded by a deep sense of spirituality. Katie speaks often of her relationship with God, andwe see how that relationship is affected by the loss of her mother. How does Katie reflect on religion? How does this help her cope with a sense of grief?
8. Grief and loss are ongoing themes in the book, on several levels. What sort of losses do the Nash girls suffer throughout the book? How do they cope with them? How does their father cope with his grief? Give a few examples by which it becomes clear that communicating pain is considered taboo in the Nash household. What impact does this limitation have on the relationships within the Nash family?
9. Describe Katie’s friend Cherylanne and her family (Belle and Bubba). How does the apparent disparity between the two girls and their families help to shed light on Katie’s character and situation?
10. Berg’s writing has been described as both “quiet” and “delicate.” With respect to Durable Goods, how would you interpret these descriptions? Do you think they are accurate? How would you describe Berg’s style in this novel?
11. Durable Goods is imbued with a sense of immediacy. How does Berg make the reader feel present in that particular time and place with Katie Nash? Select some passages that were particularly telling or successful in creating a sense of setting. Did Berg’s technique in creating a literary atmosphere enable you to feel more connected to her characters?
12. While Katie’s situation is unique, she is truly a universal character. Did you find yourself able to identify with her? If so, how, and at what points in the story did you feel most connected? Did you identify with any of the other characters? How?
13. The end of the novel is infused with both hope and sadness. Did the end of the book leave you wanting more or wondering what would happen to Katie, Diane, and their father? How did you feel about Katie’s decision to return home? What do you predict will happen to the family at this point in their story?
Posted December 10, 2013
Posted May 19, 2012
Posted June 9, 2009
I read this book when I was in high school, I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it (the story hits close to home for me), but looking back now on the story I think that my sister is old enough to read and understand it now. Its a Graduation present that I know will leave an impression on her.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
When I first picked up Durable Goods, I was wary of the young narrator, but found myself pleasantly surprised. Katie pulls you into the story with wit and charm. You feel her heartache and share in her joy. It's another excellent book from Elizabeth Berg!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 15, 2008
This book is one of the best I have ever read, and I say that about every book, but with this one, I really mean it. I'd hate to admit this, but when I began the book, I did not intend on getting much out of it. Much less expecting much of anything from it. Then I started reading, and I could not stop. This book is amazing. Told through 12-year-old Katie's eyes, a story about her and her life. Her father is abusive. Her mother is dead. And her 18-year old sister, Diane, only wants to get away with her boyfriend. This book is a sad look at reality, but a great book to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 26, 2006
Over the summer I read Durable Goods and it was the best summer reading book I ever read. All I know is that I really enjoyed reading it. I wish they made a part 2 about Durable Goods!!!!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2006
I havent read this one yet but i might for my highschool summer reading! It looks good and i dont know what to read either this one or Joy Shool. Someone tell me what to read!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 28, 2006
This book was alright to read. This is my first Berg book and I am not sure if I would pick up another. I did enjoy the speed of the book, how it kept moving. But there were some slow spots that you had to skim over in order to keep wanting to read. The book did have a good story line, it just was very easily assumed what the girls were going to do next. All in all, it was an ok read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 27, 2005
I didn't enjoy this one at all. It just seemed that 'nothing' happened. I almost felt like I was reading an 'abridged' version of the real story with many things left out. Certainly not one of Ms. Berg's best.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2004
I have recommended this book and Joy School to several people already. I read it in 2 evenings (and I have 4 small children!). I loved all the characters...even the flawed father. You feel like if you could just get a chance you might understand him better. Very good indeed. I have gone on to read 4 more of Elizabeth Berg's books and she is very interesting. I like what she brings...being a Registered Nurse, 'Army Brat', she is very neat.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2004
I am embarrased to say this is my first 'Berg' book. I am not sure what rock I have been living under but I have to say I am a new fan. Most of the reviews for her books are great and I only have good things to say about this. The story took me back to growing up and how tough it can be. From your first kiss to fighting with you best friend. I can't imagine a person who can't relate to these issues. Some of the story is unsettling but doesn't dwell on unhappiness. Just as you feel sorry for the life these kids have to deal with something nice or funny happens. I don't want to downplay the problems in the story but the story isn't completly depressing like some novels are. I have now bought 3 more Berg books and am thrilled to start them!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2004
Posted June 8, 2003
All of Elizabeth Berg's books are wonderful, but the three books about Katie Nash (Durable Goods, Joy School, and True to Form) are my favorites. If you read the other reviews, you may think that they're designed for young readers. They're not; they're designed for readers who were young at some point. There's so much to identify with in Katie, and while they're definitely easy reads, they're beautifully, insightfully, and intelligently written. Elizabeth Berg is able to make the reader both laugh and cry. Her writing is so natural it makes it seem easy. These books are both poignant and hilarious, which isn't easy to pull off.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2003
Usually, when I am towards the end of a book, I count the last few pages constantly to see when it will finally be over. But not with Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg. This was one of the best books I have ever read, and is my second favorite, only beaten by the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 15, 2002
Although this book is fairly short, it was gripping. I sometimes have a hard time feeling a book, but this one digs deep, because we were all Katie's age once. You really start to understand and sympathize with each of the characters and then it brings out two of the most powerful human emotions, love and hatred, and you feel them simultaneously. One of the best books I've read all year.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 12, 2002
Posted July 5, 2001
First off, I must say that I am not much of a reader. But it must be said that this book is very well written. I think that it is more for the younger crowd then the older ones. I had to read it for summer reading and I read it in a day. I am truly grateful that I fell upon this book and had the opportunity to read it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 11, 2001
Posted January 5, 2001
I read this book when I was in 6th grade. I thought it was so good. It is about a girl struggling without a mother, and an abusive father. I thought it was a very good book, I recommend this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2000
I usually enjoy Elizabeth Berg but this book was a weak attempt to show the emotional struggle of a young girl and the father who beats her. Story doesn't pick up. And it really doesn't focus on the relationship of a girl and her father. Not one of Elizabeth Berg best.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.