What We Keep

( 45 )

Overview

Do you ever really know your mother, your daughter, the people in your family? In this rich and rewarding new novel by the beloved bestselling author of
Talk Before Sleep and The Pull of the Moon, a reunion between two sisters and their mother reveals how the secrets and complexities of the past have shaped the lives of the women in a family.

Ginny Young is on a plane, en route to see her mother, whom she hasn't seen or spoken to for ...

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What We Keep

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Overview

Do you ever really know your mother, your daughter, the people in your family? In this rich and rewarding new novel by the beloved bestselling author of
Talk Before Sleep and The Pull of the Moon, a reunion between two sisters and their mother reveals how the secrets and complexities of the past have shaped the lives of the women in a family.

Ginny Young is on a plane, en route to see her mother, whom she hasn't seen or spoken to for thirty-five years.   She thinks back to the summer of 1958, when she and her sister, Sharla, were young girls. At that time,a series of dramatic events--beginning with the arrival of a mysterious and sensual next-door neighbor--divided the family, separating the sisters from their mother.  Moving back and forth in time between the girl she once was and the woman she's become, Ginny at last confronts painful choices that occur in almost any woman's life, and learns surprising truths about the people she thought she knew best.

Emotional honesty and a true understanding of people and relationships are combined in this moving and deeply satisfying new book by the novelist who
"writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, love and hope. And the transcendence that redeems" (Andre Dubus).

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Berg knows the hearts of her characters intimately, showing them with compassion, humor, and an illuminating generosity."
--The Seattle Times

"PICK UP ELIZABETH BERG'S WHAT WE KEEP, A SMALL BOOK WITH A HUGE HEART."
--New York Newsday

"BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN . . . What We Keep is about ties that are buried but not broken, wounds that are dressed but never heal, and love that changes form but somehow survives. . . . [Ginny Young] crosses the country for a reluctant reunion with the mother she has not seen in 35 years. During the long hours of her flight, she returns in memory to the summer when she turned 12 and her family turned inside out. . . . Berg's tender depiction of a young girl's view of the world is uncanny and gives this story its heart. She captures perfectly what it was like to grow up in the '50s, presenting it like a long-forgotten, but still sharp photograph. . . . What We Keep will touch you. It will allow you, for a few hours, to see the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old and feel in your adult heart the stubborn endurance of love."
--USA Today

"BERG'S FIFTH NOVEL IS ONE OF HER MOST COMPELLING. . . . Berg limns the character with such vivid detail, and such honesty, that reading the book is like having an intimate conversation with a friend who is baring her soul. . . . An excellent book to savor and pass on to a mother, a sister, or a close friend."
--Charleston Post and Courier

“COMPELLING . . . Berg limns the character with such vivid detail, and such honesty, that reading the book is like having an intimate conversation with a friend who is baring her soul. . . . An excellent book to savor and pass on to a mother, a sister, or a close friend.”
—Charleston Post and Courier

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I don't like my mother. She's not a good person." So declares Ginny Young on a trip to California to visit her mother, Marion, whom she hasn't seen in 35 years. Ginny is only making the trip as a favor to her sister, Sharla, who has called to say she's awaiting the results of a cancer test. In flashback, Berg Talk Before Sleep revisits the events of the girls' childhood and the moments when their mother's problems began to reveal themselves. One night, Ginny and Sharla overhear their mother screaming at their father about her unhappiness and telling him that she never wanted children. Then she walks out with no explanations, returning briefly a few months later to explain that she's not coming back. The following years bring occasional visits that are impossibly painful for all concerned and so full of buried anger that the girls decide to curtail them altogether. When Sharla meets Ginny now a mother herself at the airport, and the two see their mother again, there are surprises in store, but not especially shocking ones. The reader, in fact, may feel there is less here than meets the eye: Marion's flight is never made psychologically credible. Berg's customary skill in rendering domestic details is intact, but the story seems stitched together. Crucial scenes feel highlighted rather than fleshed out, and Ginny's bitterness disappears into thin air as she reaches a facile, sentimental conclusion about her mother's needs. BOMC selection; author tour. May
Library Journal
Berg Joy School, LJ 12/96 excels at writing novels about the close personal relationships between women. As this new work opens, Ginny is flying to California to join her sister in a meeting with their mother, whom neither daughter has seen for 35 years. Ginny uses her travel time to reflect upon her memories of the summer when her mother withdrew from the family and became an outsider in her daughters' lives. Berg's precise, evocative descriptions create vivid images of Ginny's physical world, while Berg's understanding and perception are an eloquent testimony to Ginny's emotional turmoil. Berg cleverly examines the roles and relationships of mothers and daughters and reveals how truth, forgiveness, and understanding are possible in healing intergenerational rifts between women. Highly recommended and sure to be popular. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/98.]Caroline M. Hallsworth, Cambrian Coll., Ontario
Library Journal
After indulging in a spending spree at Tiffany's, Samantha faces up to her divorce and tries to learn how to make her own happiness. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
The prolific Berg's fifth novel (Joy School, 1997, etc.) pays an unremarkable visit to that overworked territory where mothers and daughters visit to blame and explain, this time in the story of a daughter on her way to meet the mother she hasnþt seen for 35 years. Berg has an easy style and good ear, which makes for agreeable storytelling, but, here, the story itself is less impressive. The trouble is that the plot fails to seem plausible or compelling, draining the emotion from what a supposedly dramatic meeting, with attendant explanatory revelations, of a mother and her two estranged daughters. The narrative is told in flashbacks younger daughter Ginny as she flies to San Francisco. There, she joins sister Sharla, who has persuaded Ginny to come along only by hinting that sheþs terminally ill and wants to make her peace with their mother. As for Mother, she seems a parody of a 1950s Mom: baking from scratch, dressing immaculately, even hosting a Tupperware party. Dad's also a stereotypeþa well-meaning man who works hard at a boring job, but isnþt sensitive (he doesn't get it, for instance, that his wife wants to go dancing). The two girls are happy, though: They love Mom's cooking and the way she helps them create nifty projects. And yet one summer, when glamorous free spirit Jasmine, allegedly on the run from her rich but abusive husband, moves next door, their lives fall apart. Mom gets restless and decides to leave Dad and the girls to become an artist. Which she does, and isnþt forgiven until they all meet up again, realizing then just how unhappy Mom was. But why Mom had to make so extreme a gesture is never persuasively explained. An easyread, but intellectually and emotionally lite-fare, despite the suggestions of profundity ("I now believe we owe our mothers and our daughters the truth"). (Book-of-the- Month selection; author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345423290
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 358,391
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg’s novels Open House, The Pull of the Moon, Range of Motion, What We Keep, Never Change, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along were bestsellers. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. Talk Before Sleep was an ABBY finalist and a New York Times bestseller. In 1997, Berg won the NEBA Award in fiction, and in 2000 her novel Open House was named an Oprah’s Book Club selection. 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

Outside the airplane window the clouds are thick and rippled, unbroken as acres of land. They are suffused with peach-colored, early morning sun, gilded at the edges. Across the aisle, a man is taking a picture of them. Even the pilot couldn't keep still--"Folks," he just said, "we've got quite a sunrise out there. Might want to have a look." I like it when pilots make such comments. It lets me know they're awake.

Whenever I see a sight like these clouds, I think maybe everyone is wrong; maybe you can walk on air. Maybe we should just try. Everything could have changed without our noticing. Laws of physics, I mean. Why not? I want it to be true that such miracles occur. I want to stop the plane, put the kickstand down, and have us all file out there, shrugging airline claustrophobia off our shoulders. I want us to be able to breathe easily this high up, to walk on clouds as if we were angels, to point out our houses to each other way, way, way down there; and there; and there. How proud we would suddenly feel about where we live, how tender toward everything that's ours--our Mixmasters, resting on kitchen counters; our children, wearing the socks we bought them and going about children's business; our mail lying on our desks; our gardens, tilled and expectant. It seems to me it would just come with the perspective, this rich appreciation.

I lean my forehead against the glass, sigh. I am forty-seven years old and these longings come to me with the same seriousness and frequency that they did when I was a child.

"Long trip, huh?" the woman next to me asks. "Oh," I say. "Yes. Although . . . Well, I sighed because I wish I could get out. You know? Get out there and walk around." She looks past me, through the window. "Pretty," she says. And then, "Of course, you'd die." "Oh, well. What's not dangerous?"

"Beats me," the woman says. "Not food. Not water. Not air, not sex. You can't do anything. Well, maybe put your name on the list for Biosphere." We smile, ruefully. She's pretty, a young blond businesswoman wearing a stylish navy-blue suit, gold jewelry, soft-looking leather heels now slipped off her feet. At first, she busied herself with paperwork. Now she's bored and wants to talk. Fine with me. I'm bored, too.

"Do you ever think that this is the end of the world?" I ask. "I mean, don't get me wrong--" "Oh, I know what you mean," she says. "I do think about that. Dying planets, how . . . unspecial we are, really. Just the most current thing in the line since paramecia."

The flight attendant stops her cart beside us, asks if we'd like a drink. This seems petty, considering the content of our conversation. Still, I request orange juice; the woman beside me says she'd like a scotch.

"You know what?" I tell the flight attendant. "I think I'll have a scotch, too." I have always wondered who in the world would want a cocktail on an early morning flight. Now I know: people with a load on their minds that they would like very much to lighten.

After my seatmate and I have pulled down our trays and set up our impromptu bar, I say, "I don't even like scotch." "Me neither." She shrugs, takes a sip, grimaces. "But I really hate flying. Sometimes this helps." I smile, extend my hand. "I'm Ginny Young." "Martha Hamilton." "You live in California?" "Yeah. San Francisco. You?" "I live in Boston. I'm going to visit my mother. She lives in Mill Valley." "Nice. How long since you've seen her?" I do some math, then answer, "Thirty-five years." Martha turns toward me, stares. I know her scotch is pooled in her mouth.

I shrug. "I don't like my mother. I'm not ashamed to say that. She's not a good person. She did some things . . . Well, she's not a good person." Whenever people I've met tell their mother horror stories, I save mine for last. It's the best, because it's the worst.

"So . . . why are you going to see her?" "It was my sister's idea. She thinks she's sick. Not my mother--her." "Is she?" "Don't know. She's waiting for some test results. But she wanted to go and see our mother. Just . . . in case. You know. Unfinished business that she feels she needs to attend to." Martha breathes out. "Jesus. I'm sorry." "Well." She touches my arm. "Are you all right?" "Me? Yes! It's . . . this is old. It's so old. I didn't intend ever to see my mother again, and I was perfectly comfortable with that. I won't see her after this visit; I know that. I'm just doing this for my sister. Even though I don't really think she's sick. She can't be."

Martha nods, cracks an ice cube with her teeth, then looks at me, one eyebrow raised. "Right," I say. "I know." "I'll tell you something," Martha says. "I was in a cemetery last week, walking my dog. You're not supposed to walk your dog there, so when I heard someone coming, I hid behind this big marker. I saw a woman stop just a few graves away. She knelt down and started talking out loud. She was apparently talking about one of her kids who was giving her a really hard time, and then she said, "I didn't do that to you, Ma, did I? Did I?" And then she lay down and just started crying. She cried so hard! It was one of those things where the grief is so raw, you can't help yourself--you start crying, too. And when I started crying, my dog started barking. The woman looked up and saw me, of course. She got all embarrassed--jumped up and wiped her face, started straightening her clothes and rummaging around in her purse for something or other. And I felt terrible. It was terrible to have a dog there, those rules are absolutely right. I apologized, but I still felt like a jerk.

"All the way home, I wondered what that woman was crying about, what she had remembered. I wondered if other daughters talk to their mothers when they visit their graves, whether if, when my mother dies, I will. Seems like a good party question, doesn't it?--What would you say at your mother's grave? Well, maybe not a party question. But an interesting one. At least you'll have the chance to speak to her in person."

"Right," I say, although what I'm thinking is, there's nothing I want to tell my mother. I'm only going for Sharla. I love my sister; I'm finished with my mother, have been for a long time. Not for nothing did I sit in therapists' offices going through a forest's worth of Kleenex.

"Where does your sister live?" Martha asks. "Texas. San Antonio. She'll be at the airport waiting; her flight gets in twenty minutes before mine." "Has she seen your mother in all this time?" "No." "Wow. This will be some meeting." "I know," I say, and drain what's left of the scotch. Then I squeeze the plastic glass to see how far I can bend it. Not far: it cracks in my hand. I put it in the throw-up bag, fold the top over, place it neatly in the center of my tray table. I don't want to talk anymore. I lean back, look out the window. I have my reasons, I tell myself--and Martha, too, in case she's picking up on my thoughts--she's from California, after all; they do stuff like that. But I do have my reasons. I absolutely do.

**********

"Miss?" the flight attendant asks. "Breakfast?" I startle, then smile and nod yes to the fat slices of French toast she is offering me. I am probably the only one in the world who likes airline food. I appreciate the inventive garnishes, the only-for-you serving sizes. I like the taste of the salad dressings. When the entrée is something like pizza, I think, well, isn't that the cutest thing. Naturally, I don't admit this to anyone.

Martha has opted for the cheese omelet, and when I watch her cut it neatly in half, I wish I'd gotten one too. She shrugs after her first bite, the physical equivalent of "Yuck." I smile, shrug back, pour the thick artificial maple syrup over my French toast. It looks delicious.

"I saw a row of three across open back there," Martha says, after she's eaten most of her breakfast. "I think I'll go on back and stretch out for a while."

"Okay." "Unless you were thinking of that, too. In that case, we could flip for it." "No, this is fine," I say. "I'll have more room, too. Anyway, I'm not going to sleep."

"Really? Any plane trip over an hour, I have to sleep. Otherwise I get stir-crazy. Once I brought letters to read on an airplane. You know, the kind of thing you keep, thinking sometime you'd really like to read them again, but then you never do. I brought along this huge stack of letters from old boyfriends. I took them out and read them all. They passed the time all right, but it was so embarrassing--they made me cry. I'll never do that again! Better to go to sleep and embarrass yourself by drooling." She stands, opens the overhead bin and pulls down a pillow and a blanket, heads down the aisle.

I know what Martha means about old letters. One rainy day after my younger daughter had gone to school, I went down into the basement and got out my battered cardboard box of love letters. I brought it up to the bedroom and dumped it out on the bed. Then I remember putting on this old purple cardigan that had a rip at the elbow--it was a little cold--and I sat and read those letters. All of them: sweet, morning-after notes full of misspellings that Tom Winchell had taped onto my bathroom mirror; fountain-penned missives from Tim Stanley, who went on to study theology, and I know why--so he could stand in a pulpit and talk, talk, talk. I read things that made me get soft at the center again, that made me stare out the window and sigh. I got absolutely lost in reverie; I felt really out of it for hours after I'd finished reading those letters. I almost called one of my old boyfriends, but I could anticipate what would happen. I would pour out a rush of sentiment--"Now, this doesn't mean anything, but do you rem ember, do you remember the incredible love we felt for each other, do you remember when we stayed out all night to watch the sun come up by the river and you put your jacket around me and I had a cut on my lip and you kissed me so gently it made me think I could never, never leave you?" I'd say something like that and the now-balding Larry Drever, holding the phone at the desk from which he sells life insurance, would say, ". . . Who is this?"

So I know it's dangerous to reenter the past. Especially when things come back to you as strongly as they do to me. I'm extremely good at remembering, have had this ability since I was very young. Give me one rich detail, and I'll reconstruct a whole scene. Say "Dairy Queen," and I'll recall a night in high school when I was there with a bunch of friends and a cloud of gnats hung around Joe Antillo's head and he reached up to swat them away and spilled his root-beer float all over himself and Trudy Jameson, who was wearing a blue shirt tied at the waist, and jeans with one back pocket torn off and her silver charm bracelet and "Intimate" perfume. She had a cold that night. A few days earlier, her eight-year-old brother Kevin had fallen off his bicycle and cut his knee so badly he'd required seven stitches, half of which he removed later that night with his sister's manicure scissors--"just to see what would happen," he told his horrified parents when they drove him back to the emergency room. "How do you reme mber all these details?" people ask me all the time. I don't know how. I just do. One image leads to another, then another, as though they're all strung together. And in any given memory I summon up, I become again the person I was then--I feel the weather, I feel everything. I lose the person I am now to some other, younger self.

It can hurt you, remembering--the shock of reentry, the mild disorientation, the inevitable sadness that accompanies a true vision of the past. Still, right now, staring out the window at the land far below me, realizing I have no idea where I am, I want nothing more than to do absolutely that. I want to go back to the time when I started to lose my mother, and search for clues as to why and how. I suppose it's about time. I lean my seat back. Close my eyes. Begin.

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Interviews & Essays

Before the live bn.com chat, Elizabeth Berg agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q:  Who would you consider your literary influences?

A:  I don't have literary influences, insofar as having someone who helped shape my writing. I didn't study writing; rather I was a registered nurse. I wrote for myself by myself. That is not to say there aren't writers that I love, but I don't feel influenced by anyone other than my genes in terms of writing.

Q:  How do you like living in Massachusetts?

A:  Physically, there is no place like it. I enjoy the land and the seasons. But as far as mentality, there is no place like the West Coast. But my home is here in the Northeast. They are too happy for me, and I need a little balance in my life.

Q:  Have you read anything recently that just blew you away?

A:  Yes, I recently read and loved this collection of short stories called Lost Lake by Mark Slouka. A very small book physically that is fantastic. Another book I loved is The Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton.

Q:  Your latest novel, What We Keep, covers a family reunion of sorts between two sisters and their mother. Do you have a sister? Are you close to her?

A:  Yes, I do have a sister, and she is a dear pal, even though she was very mean to me when we were growing up. But that is the job of an older sister.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Ginny possesses an extraordinary memory. In fact, she suggests that, through memory, "I become again the person I was then" (page 10) and thus captures a "true vision of the past" (page 11). What is a "true vision of the past"? Is it Ginny's twelve-year-old vision? Is it her adult vision? Does Ginny's effort to remember the past cause her to think about it differently?

2. Berg dedicates What We Keep to "women who risk telling the hard truths." What do you think of Martha Hamilton, the passenger on Ginny's flight who asks Ginny some very hard questions and makes a few tough statements? Does Martha push Ginny closer to "telling the hard truths"?

3. Martha notes that people like "differentness" (page 26) in everything except their mothers. What does Martha mean? Do you agree?

4. Throughout the novel Ginny suggests that she knows her mother intimately. In fact, Ginny's early fantasy about discovering her mother's "link with royalty" (page 17) suggests that Ginny knows her mother better than Marion knows herself. Why is this knowledge so important to Ginny?

5. When Sharla dreams that Marion has a third eye, Ginny expects that Marion will comfort Sharla: "Never mind the dream; no matter what it was, she would take it away" (page 105). Why is this dream so startling? Is Marion able to comfort her daughter? Why or why not?

6. Knowing, in retrospect, that neither she nor Sharla knew Marion as well as they thought, Ginny feels that her mother should have attempted to communicate with them that summer: "To say something about what she must have been thinking" (page 85). However, the narrative is full of moments in which Marion tries to tell her daughters about herself only to be interrupted or ignored. Stories of past boyfriends (page 66) and hints of Marion's own desires (page 89) are constantly squelched by Ginny and Sharla's demands. Why didn't the daughters listen? Why couldn't Marion communicate with her daughters successfully?

7. After her first long absence, Marion tries to tell her daughters about her experience. From the moment of its "odd beginning" (page 209), it's a story Ginny doesn't like. Marion isn't, Ginny suggests, a very good storyteller: "She would make up stories that were not very good, as this one was not" (page 211). Finally, Ginny interrupts her mother's story for another: "'I have so much history,' I said. 'My teacher, Mr. Stoltz, he's nuts. He thinks all we have in our lives is history'" (page 214). Why is the word "history" emphasized in this way? What does Marion's story have to do with Ginny's "history"? Why does Ginny think her mother is a bad storyteller? What do you think of Marion's storytelling?

8. What We Keep is full of descriptions of houses. Ginny and Sharla sneak through Mrs. O'Donnell's dusty, empty rooms, and rifle through Jasmine's drawers. Both daughters are aware of Marion's "house folder" (page 87), and offer opinions about her furniture rearrangements (page 88), her Clear Falls apartment (page 225), and her California home (page 259). What is the significance of these spaces?

9. Marion appears to be the typical 1950s housekeeper--at ease in an apron, involved in the weekly neighborhood coffee klatch, a willing Tupperware party hostess. However, she seems to transform the ordinary meaning of even these events. For instance, why does Marion host a Tupperware party on her birthday? Why are her daughters so startled by this decision? What significance does her action have in their minds? In her own mind? In yours?

10. In what ways is Jasmine different from Marion? In what ways is she similar? How do you feel towards Jasmine initially? How do you feel about her at the conclusion of the novel? How responsible do you hold Jasmine for Marion's decisions?

11. Marion gives her daughters paintings for the first Christmas they spend apart. Ginny receives a painting of mother and child. Sharla receives a painting of a bird. What stories do these paintings tell? How are they related?

12. Sharla says that her painting "doesn't make any sense" (page 245), but the image of the bird certainly has meaning for Marion. Ginny realizes during her own flight to meet her mother that Marion freed the family parakeet, Lucky, during that summer (page 141). Ginny also remembers the moment in which she and Wayne witnessed Marion "flapping her arms like wings, and walking about in circles" (page 153), as well as the afternoon during which her Parents constructed collages with wings and airplanes. What meaning did these images hold for Marion?

13. Our earliest introduction to Ginny's father comes through her memories of him. How do you feel about Steven? Does Marion's story alter your feelings about him? Consider Steven's defense of Marion's absence: "I believe she thinks she has reasons" (page 241). Consider his silence when confronted with Sharla's conviction of her mother's lesbianism: "'What did he say?' I asked, and Sharla said, 'Nothing. He must have known'" (page 246). Do you think that his statement and his silence are defensible or not? Do you think he's a good father?

14. Wayne is the only other significant man in Ginny's life that summer. While Ginny feels a constant affection for her father, her feelings toward Wayne are rather ambivalent. She doesn't want her relationship with Wayne reduced to a "that-summer-at-the-lake story," but suggests herself that she was acting out of a "pied-piper delirium" (page 165). Why does she describe her relationship with Wayne so ambivalently? Why is she relieved when he leaves so suddenly?

15. In what ways does Ginny's relationship with Wayne parallel her mother's relationship with Jasmine? Does her own relationship with Wayne help Ginny understand her mother?

16. Wayne tells Ginny that "people want to be fooled" (page 157). What does he mean? Do you think he's right?

17. The climax of the novel--the meeting of Ginny and her mother--is, in fact, not written. The women come face to face and, suddenly, the text stops. Ginny can't speak. Marion begins "saying syllables that are not words" (page 254). Why is this moment in the novel not written?

18. Marion confesses misgivings about her mothering while sitting on Ginny's bed: "I think I've raised you so wrong.... I did something wrong. I did everything wrong, and I'm sorry" (page 187). Do you think Marion's mothering was "wrong"? If so, was her choice to leave "right"?

19. Ginny is clearly aware of the impact that Marion's actions have had upon her own mothering. Has Ginny learned from Marion's errors? Do you consider Ginny to be a good mother?

20. Ginny herself asks the novel's most pressing questions: "I am wondering what it is that we ask of our mothers: what do they owe us? What is it that we owe them?" (page 270) How does she answer these questions? How do you answer them?

21. At the beginning of the novel Ginny acknowledges her love of science: "I would stare at formulas and admire them for their spare beauty without being able to grasp their meaning. The fact that they cleanly explained some higher law to someone else was enough for me. It comforted me" (page 14). At the end of the novel, Marion makes a similar confession: "I would read something like the first law of thermodynamics, and just find it enormously comforting. I still do" (page 261). What is it about science that comforts Ginny? Marion?

22. Why is the novel titled What We Keep? What is it that Ginny "keeps" from her experience?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 45 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(19)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 45 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2001

    Wonderful read, great summer book.

    I just loved this book. It depicted the summer of a 12 year old girl growing up in the 1950s so perfectly. I really felt I knew this girl by the end of the book. My only complaint -- I didn't want it to end. A quick and easy read, but not lacking in content and feeling.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2012

    Don't Bother

    Not Up to Berg's standard - slow reading

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 11, 2011

    Good read

    The book was interesting but not on my top ten list. It was a book I would recommend to avid readers. There are so many better books that I have read and would recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2011

    Perfect!

    Beautifully written. This book is touching and true with approachable, believable characters. Although some of Berg's later books are not as well written, this one is a treasure not to be missed.

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  • Posted June 8, 2011

    Good read.

    Another good book from Elizabeth Berg!

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  • Posted January 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I liked this!

    I usually only read non-fictions books but wanted to read something different. If you have a sister(s) you will def relate to this book. Some nights I would try to keep myself up bec I wanted to know what would happen next. A sign of a good book:)

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  • Posted March 1, 2009

    Great read

    Really enjoyed this book! Quick read, read it in 2 days. The writing is so descriptive, I felt that I was there with Ginny and Sharla during their late night talks and adventures. It's about 2 sisters that are really close, and how they deal with their mother leaving them at such a young age. Their father took great care of them, but it couln't quite fill the resentment and confusion in why their mother left...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2008

    Good read

    I very much enjoyed this book. It made me think. Would definitely recommend this to friends.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2008

    Understanding Your Mother

    I liked this novel, along with other of Berg's, because it made me look back at some things my own mother did in a new way. Perhaps life wasn't so easy for her either, just like Berg's character in this story. An enjoyable read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2006

    One of her best!

    I have read many of Elizabeth Berg's novels and so far, this was my favorite. It's a fast read, an interesting story and hilarious in parts. I highly recommend any of her novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2005

    Wow

    I thought it could have been much better. It wasn't bad though I guess.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2005

    Good Clean Read

    I love Elizabeth Berg. I'm currently on a mission to read all of her novels. This was among my favorites. It was a quick easy read and many times made me smile.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2004

    NOT QUITE FINISHED

    I went to the barnes and Noble store in the local mall and asked the clerk to recommend a book similar to the ones I had just finished (She's come undone, The Lovely Bones)and she recommended this one. I am less than half way through and this book still has not captured me and pulled me like the last two that i read, but i can only tell with time if this book is as what the clerk said. It is an ok story so far.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    Wonderful!

    This was such a fast read! I immediately loved the characters and fell in love with the main character. This is the kind of book to read on the beach because there is nothing to follow or think about. Just a sheer pleasurable story!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2002

    Not my favorite Berg book BUT still GOOD!!

    Elizabeth Berg has an incredible talent for making her characters real! When reading her books, I consistently find myself smiling and nodding my head in response to little details in life that she describes so perfectly. In this novel, I felt frustrated with the mother's journey to "find herself"...not something I would have expected from this particular character. At any rate, this is a book that tugs at your heart and keeps you reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2002

    270 pages enough but not enough for me.

    I enjoyed this to the point I started slowing down in the closing pages as I did not wish to finish. This truly is brilliant writing which captures. Maybe since I grew up in the 50's the story called to me more than a to date story, but the creativity is absolutely...read it you'll know what I mean.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Perfect!

    A rich and thoughtful novel about sisters and their relationship with their mother. Told as one is on a plane visiting her mother.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2002

    Honest and Meaningful

    What We Keep is a beautifully written story that I will read again and again. It is honest, touching and meaningful. And I will give it as a gift to my sisters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2000

    Straight From the Heart

    Another terrific novel from Elizabeth Berg. Captivates the reader from the very first word, and doesn't let them go until the very last. It's obvious Ms. Berg writes straight from her heart, and this book, like her others I've read, is no different. This trait propels her book straight to the reader's heart. A wonderfully honest portrait of sisterhood and motherhood. An exceptional book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2000

    A fast read

    I accidentally ran across Elizabeth Berg while browsing for another author. I never ended up getting the original book I went for, these books just from the back cover captivated my attention. Berg does an excellent job of drawing the reader in. She is so descriptive of her characters, and I truly liked the characters, even the mother even though I thought she was a little strange. Once I picked this book up, I could not put it down, and I read it in a day and a half. I highly recommend this book.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 45 Customer Reviews

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