Until the Real Thing Comes Along

Until the Real Thing Comes Along

3.2 13
by Elizabeth Berg
     
 

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What do you do when your life isn't living up to your dreams? When the man you love is unavailable, and yet you long for a family, a home? What is the cost of compromising until the real thing comes along?      Reading Elizabeth Berg is like having a friend sit down and talk with you about the deepest truths and most perplexing issues in life,

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Overview

What do you do when your life isn't living up to your dreams? When the man you love is unavailable, and yet you long for a family, a home? What is the cost of compromising until the real thing comes along?      Reading Elizabeth Berg is like having a friend sit down and talk with you about the deepest truths and most perplexing issues in life, and in this exquisite new novel the bestselling author of Talk Before Sleep and The Pull of the Moon once again gives us superb fiction about a passionate woman who solves life's problems in a way that is far from traditional, but close to the wise dictums of the heart.        Patty Ann Murphy says she's "Ms. Runner-Up" in life. Rarely the bridesmaid, never mind the bride, Patty sells houses for a living (well, she's sold one house so far), longs to be married and have a family, but is irresistibly drawn to the wrong man. Ethan seems perfect for Patty—handsome, generous, and sensitive—but he's hopelessly unavailable. Patty's frustration leads her to feelings she doesn't admire—jealousy of her beautiful best friend, Elaine, for instance, about whom she says, "Find me one woman who doesn't withhold just a bit from another woman who looks like that." She's also worried about her mother, with whom she's very close but who is beginning to act strangely. Patty longs more and more for the consolation of loving and being loved, but for the moment feels she must content herself with waiting—until she can wait no more.    Andre Dubus said about Elizabeth Berg's Durable Goods, "Elizabeth Berg writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, loneliness, love and hope. And the transcendence that redeems." And the same will be said about Until the Real Thing Comes Along.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Bausch
A little gem of a book.
Entertainment Weekly
The day you open this book you will miss all your appointments because...you will read it straight through.
The Charlotte Observer
Truth rings out clearly from every page. Berg captures the way women think and especially the way they talk to other women...as well as any writer I can think of. You'll want to give a copy to every good woman friend you have.
Nan Goldberg
Berg's publishing career began in her mid-thirties when she won first prize in an essay contest sponsored by Parents magazine. That auspicious beginning led to hundreds of feature stories, essays, interviews and humor pieces-and the desire to write a novel.

Now, fifteen years later, she's written seven wonderful novels. And that is more than enough reason to listen carefully to the advice she offers for writers in Escaping Into the Open. Berg's principles are simple: "Find your own voice and believe in it"; "Relax"; "If you want to ride, stay on the horse." There is some information here that can be found elsewhere; then again, she includes recipes ("Food for Creative Thought") that you're unlikely to find in any other writing guide. In all, it's a practical, warm and encouraging invitation to the writing life.

Meanwhile, Berg's latest novel, Until The Real Thing Comes Along, concerns Patty Ann Murphy, a woman who makes her emotional commitments quickly and irrevocably-whether she's choosing houses, best friends or men. She's funny, charming, a little insecure and totally loyal. Patty's in her mid-thirties as this novel begins and afraid her biological clock is starting to wind down. The problem is she's still single and there's no solution in sight because Ethan, the man she has always loved, is gay.

Berg's best strength, of an endless array, is her seemingly effortless movement from one character's perspective to another. Whether it's a gay man fleeing the relentless AIDS deaths of friends by trying to will himself straight or the loving husband who tries to maintain a cheerful front while caring for his Alzheimer's-stricken wife, Berg presents authentic people with an ease and honesty that is breathtaking.

Erica Sanders
Though the story of a woman's race against the biological clock has been told many times before, Berg renders her version with subtlety and insight.
People Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Leave it to Berg (What We Keep) to put a quirky, melancholic spin on the familiar story of an ordinary woman's quest for marriage and children. Sparkling and witty, this novel stars self-conscious dreamer Patty Murphy, a single, 36-year-old Massachusetts realtor who seesaws from hope to despair between blind dates and manicure appointments. She worries about the ticking of her biological clock--and how to "keep her eggs healthy"--and although "it's been a long time since I've been kissed by anyone but family members," she tries to stay optimistic. The biggest barrier between Patty and her version of happily-ever-after is that Ethan, the man she's in love with, is not only her ex-fianc e and lifelong best friend, but also gay. Ethan wants children, too, and eventually Patty talks him into having a baby with her. But will Patty, who's still desperate for Ethan's true love, be satisfied with what amounts to a compromise solution? Berg is facile in transforming familiar elements into apt metaphors, and her smooth transitions between tragedies and joys are punctuated with lively humor. Real life intrudes as background to Patty's dreams: Ethan struggles with his sexual orientation in the time of AIDS, and Patty copes with her mother's worsening Alzheimer's. In the face of these traumas, Patty's fixation on an idyllic apple-pie vision of domestic serenity can seem somewhat anachronistic, even frustrating, for the reader. Her longing for a different life wreaks emotional havoc for all who love her, especially as she manipulates the affectionate, lonely father-to-be. But even readers who don't empathize with Patty's neurotic but ultimately endearing search for domestic fulfillment will be affected by Berg's poignant and clever tale and her zestful combination of commercial and literary appeal. Agent, Lisa Bankoff for ICM. Major ad/promo; author tour; reading group guide. FYI: Berg won the NEBA award for fiction in 1997. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The prolific Berg explores familiar territory in this slight novel about the conflict between the failures of dating and the biological clock. Patty Ann Murphy's half-hearted efforts at selling real estate are matched by her search for the perfect man. Not that any date could possibly measure up to her best friend, Ethan. Of course, he is gay, though she hasn't noticed all the clues. Berg successfully uses humor in some sections as Patty finally does become pregnant, but much of the story is overwhelmed with her whining. Ethan is a far more interesting character. There are, however, some touching subplots that deal tenderly with larger issues, and ultimately this is a harmless bit of light listening, with reading by Paula Parker, appropriate for the beach or a long winter's night. Recommended only for larger fiction collections.--Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
NY Times Book Review
Berg's writing is spare and direct and she draws you right into the world of Patty Anne Murphy, a 36-year-old woman who is single and unhappy about it.
Kirkus Reviews
The biological clock is ticking in this latest take on the angst and ills of contemporary women by veteran Berg (What We Keep, 1998, etc.). Patty Hansen, the 36-year-old narrator, is plucky, close to her family, and probably too kind for her own good. A real-estate agent in a coastal Massachusetts town, she's too polite to chase after clients and often spends hours with people who have no intention of buying. Her social life is on hold, too, since Ethan, her former fiancé and the only man she's ever loved, told her a few years back that he was gay. Patty's known Ethan since the sixth grade, when he once saved her from being beaten up. Now, she's tired of blind dates and longs to have a baby of her own. One evening, anxious about what seems an increasingly limited future, she calls Ethan and asks whether he would make her pregnant. He is surprisingly willing (he wants children, too), Patty conveniently gets pregnant that night, and both parents-to-be are equally thrilled. Ethan doesn't want to get married, but he suggests that they move out to Minnesota for a while to see if they can live together. Once there, though, Patty—lonely, pregnant, and homesick—soon realizes that Ethan will always be drawn to men. When her mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she heads back home in time for the baby (a girl)to be born. Reconciled to being a single mom, Patty makes a new life for herself. As she watches the loving way her father copes with her mother's illness, she realizes that life is what you make of it and that she has enough good things going for her, at least for the moment. Neatly affirmative solutions to trendy problems. Not Berg's best.

From the Publisher
"Touching . . . [A] deft, sweet, and often comic novel."
—Chicago Tribune

"THIS NOVEL MAKES FOR PLEASANT READING . . . PATTY MURPHY IS APPEALINGLY VULNERABLE. . . . NOVELIST ELIZABETH BERG HAS AN ENGAGING VOICE AND STYLE."
—Los Angeles Times

"A PERCEPTIVE COMEDY OF MODERN MANNERS . . . At the end of each undemanding day, Patty goes home to an empty apartment and listens to her biological clock ticking as ominously as Captain Hook's crocodile. . . . Patty wants a husband and a baby, and not necessarily in that order. . . . But Patty has a problem. Try as she might, there is only one man she can love—her best friend, Ethan—and try as Ethan might, he is quite firmly and intractably gay. With rueful good humor, Until the Real Thing Comes Along shows how Patty and Ethan come to terms with the impossibility of having it all."
—The Boston Globe

"BERG WRITES WITH HUMOR AND UNDERSTANDING ABOUT MATTERS OF THE HEART. . . . The author's generous view of humanity is evident in her characters, who walk right off the page they are so well and truly drawn."
—St. Louis Post Dispatch

"ENTERTAINING . . . FLAWLESS DIALOGUE . . . READING IT IS LIKE EAVESDROPPING ON AN INTIMATE FEMALE CHAT."
—New York Daily News

"COMPELLING . . . [A] WARMLY TOLD TALE."
—People

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307763426
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/12/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
132,147
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt

I used to think that the best thing to do when you had the blues was to soak in a bathtub full of hot water, submerge yourself so that only the top half of your head was in the outer world. You could feel altered and protected. Weightless. You could feel mysterious, like a crocodile, who is bound up with the wisdom of the natural world and does not concern herself with the number of dates she has per month or the biological time clock. You could feel purified by the rising steam. Best of all, you could press a washrag across your chest, and it would feel like the hand of your mother when you were little and suffering from a cold, and she'd lay her flat palm on you to draw the sickness out.

The problem with the bathtub method is that you have to keep fooling with the faucet to keep the water temperature right, and that breaks the healing spell. Besides that, as soon as you get out of the tub the solace disappears as quickly as the water, and you are left with only your annoying lobster self, staring blankly into the mirror.

These days I believe that museums are the place to go to lose your sorrow. Fine-art museums with high ceilings and severe little boxes mounted on the wall to measure the level of humidity; rooms of furniture displayed so truly the people seem to have just stepped out for a minute; glass cases full of ancient pottery in the muted colors of old earth. There are mummies, wearing the ultimate in long-lasting eyeliner; old canvases that were held between the hands of Vermeer; new canvases with emphatic smears of paint. The cafés have pastry as artful as anything else in the building; gift shops are stocked with jewelry modeled after the kind worn by Renaissance women--the garnet-and-drop-pearl variety. I buy that kind of jewelry, in love with its romantic history and the sight of it against the black velvet. Then I bring it home and never wear it because it looks stupid with everything I have. But it is good to own anyway, for the pleasure of laying it on the bedspread and then sitting beside it, touching it.

What I like most about museums is that the efforts of so many people remain so long after they are gone. They made their marks. If you are an artist, you can hope to achieve that. If you are not an artist, you believe that having children is the closest you'll come.

Well, that's what I believe. And anyway, I have always preferred the company of children; I just like to be around them. Whenever my large family gets together on holidays, I sit at the kids' card table. It's so much more relaxing, what with the way the dishes are plastic, and manners of any kind optional. So much more interesting, too--no talk about current events, no holding forth by any overweight, overeducated aunt or uncle. There is talk only about things that are astonishing. Facts about the red ant, say, or the elaborate retelling of an unfortunate incident, such as the one where a kid vomited on the teacher's desk.

I always thought I'd have five or six children, and I have imagined so many lovely domestic scenes featuring me and my offspring. Here we are outside on a hot summer day, running through the sprinkler. The children wear bright fluorescent bathing suits in pink and green and yellow; I wear cutoffs and a T-shirt. There is fruit salad in the refrigerator. Later, I will let the older kids squirt whipped cream for the younger ones; then, if they pester me enough in the right way, I'll let them squirt it into their mouths--and mine.

Or here I am at the grocery store, my married hands unloading graham crackers and packages of American cheese that have already been broken into due to the eager appetite of the toddler in the carriage, who is dressed in tiny OshKosh overalls over a striped shirt. His fine hair, infused with gold and red, curls up slightly at the back of his neck. His swinging feet are chubby and bare; he has flung his sneakers and socks on top of the family-size pack of chicken breasts. His brothers and sisters are in school. Later in the afternoon, he will stand at the living-room window, watching for them to come home, squealing and bending his knees in a little joy dance when he sees them marching down the sidewalk toward him, swinging their lunch boxes in high, bright-colored arcs.

I have imagined myself making dinner while my dark-haired daughter sits at the kitchen table. She is making me a picture of a house with window boxes, choosing crayons with slow care. She is wearing yellow turtle barrettes in her hair, and a bracelet she made from string. "Hey, Mommy," she says, "do you want flowers on the ground, too?" Oh yes, I say. Sure. "Me too," she says. We smile.

I have imagined a fleshy constellation of small children and me, spread out and napping on my big bed while the newest baby sleeps in her crib. The pulled-down shades lift with the occasional breeze, then slap gently back against the windowsill. If you listen carefully, you can hear the small breathing sounds of the children, their soothing, syncopated rhythms. There is no other sound, not even from the birds; the afternoon is holding its finger to its lips. All the children have blankets and all of them are sucking their thumbs. All of them are read to every night after their baths. All of them think they are the favorite. None of them has ever had an illness of any kind, or ever will. (I mean, as long as I'm imagining.)


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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