Range of Motion: A Novel

Range of Motion: A Novel

4.4 16
by Elizabeth Berg
     
 

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In this exquisite, emotionally rich novel, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg offers a deeply satisfying story about the bonds of love and the balm of friendship. A young man named Jay lies in a coma after suffering a freak accident, and his wife, Lainey, is the only one who believes he will recover. She sits at his bedside, bringing him remindersSee more details below

Overview

In this exquisite, emotionally rich novel, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg offers a deeply satisfying story about the bonds of love and the balm of friendship. A young man named Jay lies in a coma after suffering a freak accident, and his wife, Lainey, is the only one who believes he will recover. She sits at his bedside, bringing him reminders of the ordinary life they shared: fragrant flowers, his children’s drawings, his own softly textured shirt. When Lainey’s faith in his recovery falters, she is sustained by two women, Alice and Evie, who teach her about the endurance of friendship—and the genuine power of hope. Filled with beautiful writing and truths about life, Range of Motion is hard to put down and impossible to forget.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Readers who thought The Bridges of Madison County was a romantic book should try this story of honest and enduring love from the author of Talk Before Sleep (LJ 3/15/94). The 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. "I line up the little spice bags all across his chest. All across his University of California T-shirt are requests from the kitchen. Come back, says the curry, the oregano. And me." 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 Forties. A touching and enjoyable read, this novel is romantic without being a romance. Highly recommended for popular fiction collections.-Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll.
Donna Seaman
Berg's impeccable prose gives voice to that element in our psyche that enables us to cope with the impossible. In her last novel, "Talk before Sleep" , the impossible was terminal cancer. Here tragedy is tinged with a painful sense of the absurd: the narrator's husband, Jay, is hit on the head by ice falling off a building, an accident that sends him into a coma. Lainey loves Jay with her whole heart and refuses even to consider the possibility that this condition could lead inexorably toward death. Lainey goes to the nursing home every day, bringing Jay flowers, his favorite clothes, and their two confused young daughters. And she talks to him, touches him, tries to draw him back to the world of the living. At home, Lainey tempers her fear with fantasies about an all-knowing "ghost woman" who encourages her to be strong. In less capable hands, this story line would be unbearably mawkish, but Berg writes on a higher plane. We can't control life, Berg tells us, but it sure helps to have faith.
From the Publisher
“The day you open this book you will miss all your appointments because . . . you will read it straight through.”—Entertainment Weekly

“A simple but intensely moving story about the redemptive power of love . . . [Elizabeth Berg is] a writer whose luminous prose is likely to stay with you a long, long time.”—Chicago Tribune

“A stunning, believable, funny novel that celebrates the unassuming invincibility of the human spirit.”Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“A luminous, bittersweet, almost mystical meditation on the unexpected, often hidden, joys found in the least likely of places.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“The terrifically talented Berg at her best.”—People

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345515414
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
110,640
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

They say that one of the reasons for tragedy is that you learn important lessons from it. Appreciation for your nor¬mal life, for one thing. A new longing for things only ordinary. The feeling is that we are so caught up in minu¬tiae—slicing tomatoes and filling out forms and waiting in lines and emptying the dryer and looking in the paper for things to do—that we forget how to use what we’ve been given. Therefore we don’t taste the plum. We are blind to the slant of the four o’clock sun against the changing show of leaves. We are deaf to the throaty purity of children’s voices. We are assumed to be rather hopeless—swallowed up by incorrect notions, divorced from the original genius with which we are born, lost within days of living this distracting life. We are capable only of moments, of single seconds of true appreciation and connection. That is the thought.

I never did believe that. I always felt I had a kind of con¬tinual appreciation with a flame that did not flicker, despite the ongoing assaults of an imperfect life. I didn’t think I was the only one, either. I thought that all around me were awake people with hearts huge and whole and open. And I wondered, after the accident happened, what is the point in this? Where is the meaning in it? What lesson can I possi¬bly learn?

But sometimes lessons take the crooked path. I mean that I used to wonder how I would feel if I were suddenly plucked from my normal life. I wondered how I would see it; wondered, in fact, if I would see it. I suppose it’s like the desire for a true mirror to reflect all of our parts, both visi¬ble and unseen. I think now the accident was a way of that happening. Because I did get plucked from my normal life, put in the position of seeing it from another vantage point. And I would say that I did see it. I would say that I saw and saw and saw it. And though the method is not one I would have chosen to verify a supposition, I would also say that my gratefulness is unutterable.

Ican tell you how it happened. It’s easy to say how it happened. He walked past a building, and a huge chunk of ice fell off the roof, and it hit him in the head. This is Chap¬linesque, right? This is kind of funny. People start to laugh when I tell them. I see the start of their hand to their mouth, their poor disguise. I laughed when I heard. I thought after the doctor told me what happened that Jay would get on the phone and say, “Jeez, Lainey, come and get me. I’ve got a goose egg the size of the world. Come take me home.” Only what happened wasn’t like Chaplin: Jay didn’t land on his butt with his legs sticking out at chopstick angles, twitch his mustache, get back up and walk away. He landed on his side, and stayed there—rather like a child sleeping, the ambu¬lance attendant told the doctor. He was on his side, his arm draped peacefully across his chest, and he didn’t wake up at the hospital nor has he since.
Now there is no ice on buildings. Now daffodils sway, uncertain in their newness. Now the hospital is going to transfer him to a nursing home. No more they can do, they told me in our little meeting this morning.

“Wait,” I said. “There has to be more.” I wanted a bigger conference, one of those fancy ones where the social worker comes and tries not to let me see her looking at her watch. It’s a tacky watch. You shouldn’t try to make a watch look like a bracelet. One or the other. But anyway, Wait, I said, and they said, Sorry, Mrs. Berman, we just can’t keep him. I said nothing after that. I thought I would sit there saying nothing until they gave in and said okay. They didn’t do that. They left, one by one. I saw the white coat of the neurologist flapping a bit as he walked past, the head nurse looking at notes she pulled out of her pocket. I heard the squeak of the physical therapist’s new sneakers, Nikes, he’d said yesterday, he always buys Nikes, and we’d talked about the relative merits of sneakers and I’d watched the sun play off the top of his hair while he gave Jay range of motion. That is what they call the passive exercise Jay gets here, range of motion. He can no longer jog every morning, returning on Sundays with a bag from Lessinger’s bakery that smells of warm sugar and is stained with irresistible patterns of translucence from the grease. He can’t move at all. So every day, a few times a day, someone must put each of Jay’s body parts through all the movements of which they are capable. First the thumb is bent, then straightened, then bent and straightened again, twice more. Next, each finger is done individually; then the whole hand, fingers all together. Then comes the wrist, then the elbow, and so on. They do his neck, they do his knees, they do his great toes and his little ones. Don’t forget, a stranger’s hand tells Jay’s body. Remember all that is here for you to use. So I was watch¬ing and I was telling the therapist I still liked Keds, but I was thinking, Be careful. And I was thinking, Save him.

Saving was not on the agenda at the meeting. They were not really thinking of Jay. What they were thinking was,
Next? This left me no time to tell them that they were dis¬missing the man who showed up at my dorm room with his arms full of lilacs, stolen at considerable risk and so purple the buds were black. He wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the good place, and a heart-shaped leaf lay trapped in the hollow of his throat as though it were planned, though of course it was so perfect it couldn’t have been planned. He was nineteen then. Now he is thirty-five, the father of two children who hang on his arms when he comes home, fight for the privilege of relieving him of his briefcase. Girls, Amy and Sarah, four and ten, who are beginning to yell at me because they miss their father.
I go to visit him every day and I keep trying. Jay, I say. You need to come back here now. Please come back. Wake up. I put things in his hands for him to feel: his wallet and keys, his cotton work shirt worn to the softness of Kleenex, baby pinecones, his daughters’ drawings, the comb from my hair, a fork. I talk almost nonstop, about anything, just so that the language might stir him, just so that something, a word, an image, might reach the deep and silent place in him that surely is waiting for the right thing, which will be tiny, I know, which will be so tiny and amaze everyone. “How did you do it?” they’ll say and I’ll say, “Listen. There isn’t a way. It was a normal day. I turned an afternoon movie on his tele¬vision. Black and white. Bette Davis. I started to tell him to pay attention, this was a good part, and he woke up. That’s all. That’s it. You just have to wait. You just have to believe.”

I would guess that they have given up on believing, here. They have seen too many coma patients die—“fail,” they call it—even when all signs pointed toward recovery.

Now I will wait in a nursing home and I will probably be the only one who believes. It will be around my head like a pale aura, my belief, but at the nursing home they will no doubt see my hope only as naïveté and it will make them more tired than they already are. “Pardon me,” I see them saying, their arms full of scorched linens, giving me wide berth and not looking me in the eye lest I ask another ques¬tion. I’ve heard about nursing homes. Imagine how many flowers I’ll have to bring to cover up the stench of urine.

When Jay brought me those lilacs, there was a cut all along the underside of his forearm, a line of valor like a red road on a map. I had to wrap my arms around myself at the sight of it. I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen. But that was nothing.

I’ve thought: his name should have been a little longer. Lionel. Joshua. Richard. Then when he signed the checks for the bills he was going to mail on the way to work that morn¬ing, it would have taken a little longer. And the ice would have fallen before he got there. He would have walked around it, admired the cool blue color trapped in the white. I’ve thought: we should have made love that morning. He should have gone to the hardware store before work. The dentist. He should have gone in earlier than usual. Often I’ve thought: this is for something I did.
This is what you do. Also, sometimes, you sleep.

After the conference about Jay going to the nursing home, I sat on the bed beside him and pushed his hair back from his forehead. “Hey, guess what?” I said. “You’re mov¬ing!” I felt like a very cheerful person saying to another, “Well! Your house has exploded! Isn’t that nice!”

I feel you sitting down beside me. I smell your hair. Is it...are we at the breakfast table, your blue robe? I nearly start the reach but then there is the other. A high whine of wind. Speed, this hurtling forward. Red weeds standing straight below me, an evenness of the space between them. I see the black earth, mica, the start of stars. I am tunneling deeper toward all that calls. Things move aside, let me in. Lainey, my bones have gone soft and flat, spread out into uselessness. I have to pay attention. I can’t tell you. But I feel you. Stay.

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What People are saying about this

Mary Kay Blakely
A love story that tells the truth about women and men...explores the rich terrain of women's friendships, the intricacies of motherhood, the complex passions of family.
Barbara Levear Aschler
Elizabeth Berg has written a beautiful book steeped with grace, wit, and compassion...if you read one book this year, let it be this one. If you read one book next year, re-read it.
LaVyrle Spencer
Elizabeth Berg takes us on a journey where love hurts, then heals. Anyone who has loved...don't miss this book.

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