In the tradition of Berg's Open House, her Oprah's Book Club-selected novel, this is a collection of moving stories about women whose lives are governed by domestic chores and good sense. When their daily routines are interrupted by madness, disease or death, they are much too prudent to call attention to themselves. Instead, they collapse inward, causing their husbands and children as little discomfort as possible. In the title story, seventy-nine-year-old Mavis McPhearson decides to "go on retreat" in order to take stock of her life. Too thrifty to spring for a beach vacation, she lives in her bathroom for a week, sustaining herself on women’s magazines and boxes of Wheat Thins. Berg's adult heroines quietly struggle to reconcile their desire for love and family with their need for independence and self-discovery; however, the most lyrical, energetic stories are narrated by girls who haven't been silenced yet by gender expectations. Reading this collection is like being privy to one of these late-night conversations among women. You leave it feeling privileged, included, reassured by stories that are at once familiar and refreshingly different from your own.
Focusing, in 15 short tales, on those moments in women's lives that provide opportunity for reflection, bestselling author Berg (Open House, an Oprah's Book Club selection) zeroes in on the same kind of emotional revelations she plumbs in her novels. In many cases, her characters have simply reached a point at which they need to take stock, as has 79-year-old Mavis in the title story, who decides to hole up in the bathroom for a week. Supplied with food and magazines, and keeping her baffled husband at bay, Mavis ponders the seemingly arbitrary events of her marriage, the upbringing of her children, and the recent death of her sister, wondering if there is any meaning to it all. The adult daughter in "Caretaking" remembers her childhood as she learns how to cope with her mother, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease; in "What Stays," a young daughter takes solace in memories of her mother's gentleness and love. Couples who are at a dead end in their relationships learn things about themselves in unexpected ways, such as the pair in "White Dwarf," who examine the fallout of the wife's affair while playing a word-association game. "Martin's Letter to Nan" is the husband's response to the wife who left home in Berg's novel, The Pull of the Moon. While the men and women who populate the stories typify the monolithic entities of the fabled battle of the sexes "men don't talk" is a refrain repeated more than once Berg's gentle probing of everyday events offers insight into turning points of life that may not set off fireworks but are nevertheless indelible. Affecting and sentimental, these stories could easily appear in the magazines sold at grocery checkout counters; as light commercial fiction, they should provide sustenance for Berg's fans. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. 10-city author tour. (Feb. 26) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This book is a collection of 14 short stories by Berg, who has a gift for writing dialogue that expresses how people communicate between the lines, and how they struggle to connect with each other. For example, in "What Stays," grown-up daughter Lizzy thinks back to her childhood and tells the tale of her mother's spiraling mental illness. Lizzy recounts her confusion about her mother's illness, and how her father struggled to protect his daughter from the truth about her loving but eccentric mother. Berg is also especially adept at showing the differences in how men and women communicate, with her older male characters often avoiding any conversations about feelings. In this vein, another poignant story, "Martin's Letter to Nan," consists entirely of a letter written by a husband, after he's found a note from his wife that says she's gone. The title story, "Ordinary Life: A Love Story," is one of my favorites. In that tale, a 79-year-old woman named Mavis decides to take a self-styled soul-searching retreat-in her very own bathroom-much to the confusion and chagrin of her stodgy husband. Ordinary Life is a compilation of short stories that are accessible, but somehow they pull no emotional punches. There's no sense of tricked-up artistry in Berg's stories. She indeed does write about ordinary life, with humor and pathos, cruelty and kindness. There are some hints of sexuality, and violence, but nothing is graphic or explicit. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, 192p., Ages 15 to adult.
Berg's first collection of short stories takes us, as the title promises, into the ordinary daily lives of its characters. The shorter fiction form allows Berg to focus on smaller slices of life where she can explore the struggle and either loss or gain in both the routine and in its interruptions. The 14 pieces are clearly from Berg's familiar world: domestic uneasiness, illness, dependency, and self-discovery. "Martin's Letter to Nan," in fact, is the husband's response to his wife from her novel The Pull of the Moon. Laura Hicks's reading suffers from poor pacing between stories, as the title of the next tale tends to latch onto the end lines of the previous one. Also, she is more comfortable with female voices. An uneven set of lighter reading and moving glimpses that capture the essences of these mostly women's lives. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Oprah's Book Clubber Berg (Open House, 2000, etc.) offers 15 stories deftly detailing those defining moments in ordinary women's lives when fresh insights help explain their discontents.
Immediate, moment-to-moment storytelling that unfolds with the naturalism and authenticity of real life.” —The Boston Globe
“An extraordinary short story collection that deserves our closest attention.” —Detroit Free Press
“Elizabeth Berg’s gift as a storyteller lies most powerfully in her ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the remarkable in the everyday.” —The Boston Globe
“Berg’s...deftly drawn pictures of ordinary life can help remind us of its oft-unheeded charms.” —Los Angeles Times