Durable Goods

( 26 )

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...
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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.

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.

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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: 5/13/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 180,468
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including The Year of Pleasures, The Art of Mending, Say When, True to Form, Never Change, and Open House, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 2000. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, and Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for the ABBY award in 1996. The winner of the 1997 New England Booksellers Award for her body of work, Berg is also the author of a nonfiction work, Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True. She lives in Chicago.

Biography

Elizabeth Berg made her mark as a promising writer with the publication of her first novel, Durable Goods (1993), the story of Katie, a 12-year-old girl reeling from her mother's death while her abusive father drags her from town to town. The book, like Katie, was tough but tender, and the American Library Association named it a Best Book of the Year.

Since then, Berg has written subsequent novels, most of them, like Durable Goods, sincere, unpretentious, somewhat sentimental, and focused on an event that changes a woman's life. In Joy School (1997), a continuation of Katie's story, the crucible is her first taste of romance; in What We Keep (1998), it's a girl's abandonment by her mother; in Until the Real Thing Comes Along (1999), it's a woman's love for a gay man. All are grounded in the realistic minutiae of family life: irksome marriages, tempestuous parent-child relationships, love, betrayal, and resolution.

Although her books have received mixed reviews from critics, Berg remains immensely popular with readers who appreciate her fine powers of observation and honest descriptions. Her command of authentic details is on best display in her medically-themed titles. Before she became a full-time writer, Berg was a registered nurse, where she accumulated an endless store of observations related to sickness, healing, and the emotional toll that health crises take on people. In Range of Motion, Berg wrote about the experience of a comatose man; in Talk Before Sleep, about a nurse caring for a good friend who is succumbing to cancer; in Never Change, about a nurse treating an incurably ill man who also happens to have been a childhood acquaintance.

Although Berg's plots can occasionally be predictable, equally predictable is her taut, intelligent foray into the forces that shape ordinary people's lives -- especially women's lives -- and her exploration of the infinite resilience of the human spirit.

Good To Know

Berg had an experience she used for the straight-gay relationship in Until the Real Thing Comes Along: Her college love later came out to her after the two had broken up. The character of Ethan is modeled on that college boyfriend.

Berg hasn't managed to get her way when it comes to titling her books, usually getting overruled by her agent and editor. She wanted to call Durable Goods The King of Wands, after a tarot card; Range of Motion would have been Telling Songs; and Open House would have been The Hotel Meatloaf. Perhaps Berg should be thankful for her handlers?

Durable Goods was never meant to have a sequel, Berg says in a publisher's interview, but she ended up writing Joy School (and later True to Form) because she missed the original characters. Berg explains: "There was just a time when I was lying in the bathtub, and I thought about Katie, and I got out of the bathtub and started writing about her to see what she was up to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Paul, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      Attended the University of Minnesota; St. Mary’s College, A.A.S.

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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Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide

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?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

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(11)

4 Star

(8)

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(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 10, 2013

    Highly recommended

    If you are over 60 you will remember many things they talk about in this wonderful book. This is the first book in 3 part series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    GREAT

    Its a amazing original book and great to show how there can always be a lot of up and downs in life

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2009

    A gift for my sister

    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.

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  • Posted November 5, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent!

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2008

    Durable Goods

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2006

    Great Book!!!!!!!!

    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!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2006

    WAY COOL

    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!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2006

    Short Read

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2005

    Just not very good

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2004

    Really enjoyed this book!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2004

    Wonderful journey.

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2004

    A senior at Mercer University, GA

    This was a really good book. I enjoyed it. I had to read it for school and couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2003

    Touching and funny

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2003

    A Great Book

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2002

    Fantastic quick read

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2002

    weird

    it's too gurly and weird.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2001

    Very Good Book

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2001

    Awesome Book

    This book was so good! I was recommed this book from a friend and it was totally awesome. You should definatly read this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2001

    Good Book!!

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2000

    Weak Attempt

    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.

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