Durable Goods

Durable Goods

3.9 26
by Elizabeth Berg
     
 

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On the hot Texas army base she calls home, Katie spends the lazy days of her summer waiting: waiting to grow up; waiting for Dickie Mack to fall in love with her; waiting for her breasts to blossom; waiting for the beatings to stop. Since their mother died, Katie and her older sister, Diane, have struggled to understand their increasingly distant, often violent

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Overview

On the hot Texas army base she calls home, Katie spends the lazy days of her summer waiting: waiting to grow up; waiting for Dickie Mack to fall in love with her; waiting for her breasts to blossom; waiting for the beatings to stop. Since their mother died, Katie and her older sister, Diane, have struggled to understand their increasingly distant, often violent father. While Diane escapes into the arms of her boyfriend, Katie hides in her room or escapes to her best friend’s house—until Katie’s admiration for her strong-willed sister leads her on an adventure that transforms her life.

Written with an unerring ability to capture the sadness of growth, the pain of change, the nearly visible vibrations that connect people, this beautiful novel by the bestselling author of Open House reminds us how wonderful—and wounding—a deeper understanding of life can be.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Rich . . . timeless.”
The New Yorker

“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.”
—ANDRE DUBUS

“This quietly told tale will find a place in your soul, and will stay there.”
—CHRISTOPHER TILGHMAN

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Berg's understated and promising fiction debut, a 12-year-old ``army brat'' comes to epitomize the quality that her father prizes: emotional durability. Narrator Katie lives on a Texas Army base with her 18-year-old sister and volatile father, an officer of unidentified rank. The girls' mother has died of cancer, although Katie never discusses how much time has passed since the loss. Accustomed to a military lifestyle, suspecting that her home will be only a temporary one, Katie leads a fairly ordinary existence. She and her best friend go swimming, talk about puberty and meet boys. When the inevitable happens and the family learns they're being transferred to Missouri, Katie tries to accept the impending change, but her sister, who can no longer tolerate her father's abuse, rebels. Direct, matter-of-fact sentences convey resilient Katie's point of view; the absence of a maternal figure is acutely felt, particularly in the vulnerable but violent father's frightening temper. Overall, however, this subdued tale of a troubled family is more modest than memorable, insinuating rather than fully examining its characters' motives. Author tour. (May)
Library Journal
Berg's passion for writing is evident in this first novel. For 12-year-old Katie, home is an army base in Texas. The reader struggles along with Katie and her sister, Diane, as they try to cope with the burdens of growing up with an abusive father and no mother. This beautifully told tale grips the reader from page one and does not let go until Katie comes to terms with her sister's appetite for adventure, as she tries all the while to keep pace with her own changes. Even then the prose will continue to haunt the reader. Though Katie has been living in a world that could hardly be called kind, Berg convinces the reader that she nevertheless feels renewed hope. Highly recommended.-- Vicki Cecil, Hartford City P.L., Ind.
School Library Journal
YA-After her mother's death, Katie and her father move from their home on a Texas army base. Her sister Diane, 18, runs away with her boyfriend rather than spend any more time with her grieving, distant father. Katie, at 12, is just discovering her potential and working through relationships with friends, boys, her sister and, most especially, her father. Every once in a while, she and readers see the unresolved despair that contributes to his abusive spells. No one in this compelling story is completely right or wrong. Diane cannot see the man's pain or, if she does, cannot forgive him yet. He is seemingly uncaring and cruel, but, at moments, is also loving and concerned for his small family. At the end of this book, readers will feel that the girl and her father are going to make it. Katie is an endearing and persistent heroine, and Berg's prose borders on the poetic. This is an easy read, but its haunting images of coming of age are sure to remain with YAs.-Susan H. Woodcock, Potomac Library, Woodbridge, VA
Judyth Wagner. Rigler
Painfully vivid and professionally candid...a sensitively told story of love, loss, and growth...it has a message worth heeding. -- Fort Worth Star Telegram

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812968149
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/13/2003
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
318,815
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

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.

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What People are saying about this

Andre Duves
Elizabeth Berg writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, lonliness, love, and hope. And the transcendent that redeems.

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