The familiar protagonist of Berg's 13th novel (after The Art of Mending) is a Boston widow of several months, 55-year-old Betta Nolan, who fulfills her dying husband's dream of moving out to the Midwest and starting a new life. "It will give me peace to know that what you will do is exactly what we talked about," says John commandingly before dying of liver cancer; Betta, an author of children's books, sells their Beacon Hill brownstone and takes off, buying an oversized Victorian in the small town of Stewart, Ill., 49 miles from Chicago. Lonely, she finds herself tracking down three former college roommates from the late 1960s, Lorraine, Maddy and Susanna, whom she ditched once she met John. The women reappear one by one and help give her the courage to open a shop called What a Woman Wants (it'll sell "all different stuff that women loved. Beautiful things, but unusual too. Like antique birdcages with orchids growing in them"). Meanwhile, she begins to make friends in town, notably with attractive young handyman Matthew and natty oldster Tom Bartlett. Berg is a pro at putting together an affecting saga of interest to women of a certain age, yet here she seems to be writing in her sleep. There is little effort at cohesion-rather, a kind of serendipitous plot that goes every which way and a series of tentative, aborted romances. The impression readers will be left with is of a woman endlessly nurturing and rarely satisfied. Agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM. 12-city author tour. (Apr. 12) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
As evidenced by this 14th novel (after The Art of Mending), Berg's talents grow richer with each book. Her heroine is Betta Nolan, whose marriage boasts such strength and intimacy that she is left completely bereft at husband John's death. Seeking to begin again and following a dream that she and John had shared to move to the Midwest, Betta impulsively purchases a house in a small town. Each day is difficult, and yet by finding and celebrating the simple pleasures of life, Betta catches hope and begins to heal. Berg's unerring sense of the beauties of daily life bursts forth on every page, from her description of "barns faded to the soft red of tomato soup," through cryptic one-word notes that John has left for Betta to find and unravel, to a green bowl, eggs, and a sparrow. Poignant, intimate, and hopeful, this is a novel to read, treasure, and share. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Caroline M. Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The prolific Berg (The Art of Mending, 2004, etc.) champions middle-aged craziness in an impossibly sunny soap opera. Betta Nolan, 55 and a former children's book author, sells her Boston townhouse after her beloved husband John dies of cancer-and sets out for the center of the country to see what happens next. It's not purely whim that draws Betta to the Midwest; she and John had once dreamed of moving to that part of the country. "We had always been charmed by the people we'd met from there, and it seemed the right place to start a new life: exotic, at least to us, but not as difficult as, say, Prague." Her Boston house sells for $1.9 million, so she won't have to take a waitress job to make ends meet, and she eagerly plunks down a ridiculously low sum for a Victorian treasure in Stewart, Ill. There's still the matter of filling up a life, however, and between bouts of grieving, Betta does just that by looking up three old friends from college, befriending a handsome college student with a bitchy, unworthy girlfriend, and opening the store John once suggested she call "What a Woman Wants." Meanwhile, Betta tries to decipher the scrawled notes her psychiatrist husband left behind. The answer to their mystery, like all the other not-so-very complicated roadblocks in the way of Betta's starting over, is expressed in a platitude ("There is love in holding. And there is love in letting go") that only soapy characters could fathom or follow. "We're all just here, blinking in the light like kittens," Betta's friend Maddy confides. "The older I get, the more I see that nothing makes sense but to try to learn true compassion." What a woman wants, Betta discovers, is to have perfect things in aperfect place, shared with perfect-or at least perfectly interesting-friends. "You don't dishonor the one you loved by being happy," Betta learns. Unhappiness, in Berg's world, isn't an option. Author tour
Praise for Elizabeth Berg
“The day you open this book you will miss all your appointments, because . . . you will read it straight through. . . . Berg’s writing is to literature what Chopin’s études are to music–measured, delicate, and impossible to walk away from until their completion.”
–Entertainment Weekly, about Range of Motion
“Lyrical from start to finish . . . Shaped by Berg’s artistic talents, these stories of ordinary people in ordinary situations are anything but ordinary.”
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram, about Ordinary Life
“Truth rings forth 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.”
–The Charlottesville Observer, about Talk Before Sleep
“Berg’s lovely novels examine how some families grasp blindly at the ties that hold them together and some pluck them apart. Mending is no exception.”
–Entertainment Weekly, about The Art of Mending
“Elizabeth Berg is one of those rare souls who can play with truths as if swinging across the void from one trapeze to another.”
–Joan Gould, about Talk Before Sleep