I discovered Elizabeth Berg’s Durable Goods Early in the early 1990’s, a tough story of an Army brat, Katie Nash, who was twelve years old and lonely and a little bewildered. Spunky, too, though. I read it and enjoyed it.
I was at home then, for the most part—at home with a long-awaited toddler who was showing some signs of being a challenge. I gave up teaching to be an at-home mom, and I loved the being-at-home. But family finances implored, “A little work here, please?”
I thought perhaps I could earn some money writing, which was a long-held, hazily formed dream, anyway. So I got a copy of Writer’s Market, and I sent off several tentative essays, and to my surprise, some of them sold—for whopping fees like 15 or 25 dollars. And I applied for and was awarded a gig as a columnist for the local weekly paper. My first column, I remember, was about local female clergy on Valentine’s day.
So I was feeling a little like a journalist when I saw Berg’s article in a magazine I read, something like Family, I think, and I felt a little kinship there. She was definitely far down the path ahead of me; she was doing what I wanted to do. And then I found a new book she’d written, which had to do with losing a dear friend to cancer. It was a road I was traveling; I wrote her a note and told her the book had meant a lot.
She wrote back on stationery I might have picked out myself. Her note was gracious and kind.
And life got busy. I went through a part-time gig at the local library and a year of providing day care at home before going back to earn my master’s when that toddler turned four. A graduate assistantship materialized; a college teaching gig (teaching the intro journalism class that none of the literary profs wanted to touch) fell into my lap.
Time ran very short. I gave up my weekly column. Little by little, I stopped sending out essays and articles; parenting, a thesis, teaching, and academic advising became my life. I took my dream of Being a Writer and buried it in a shallow grave, hoping the right time would come to resurrect it in the not-too-distant future. (And a little voice in my head told me I must not have wanted it so badly if it was that easy to put away.)
But Elizabeth Berg kept writing books, and I kept reading them, delighted whenever a new book appeared on the library shelf. Her main characters aged and matured, and I struggled to do the same.
By the time I was in my fifties, entrenched in a college career, Berg’s heroes were dealing with post-career issues, wrestling with loss and re-imagining themselves. I almost felt like my long struggle to grow up into a mindful, caring, effective adults was mirrored by the aging, and the challenges, and the joys, of the women in Berg’s books.
All of this is to say that, when I saw Arthur Truluv on the New Books shelf at the library, I took it home despite my towering stack of books to read.
Arthur Truluv, a sweet and hopeful story, begins and ends in a cemetery. Arthur goes there every day to visit Nola, his recently passed wife. Maddy goes there every day to escape the kids at school. They develop an unlikely friendship—the fragile old man, the glowering Goth girl—and that friendship turns them into family. And family is there when challenges smack your face.
A quick read, Arthur Truluv weaves loss and grief and hope together; it suggests that, no matter how bad things seem to be, there might be a next step that offers healing and growth and a good way forward. It suggests that the unconventional solution might just be the best one. I wasn’t at all disappointed; I enjoyed the book.
And doing a little research afterward, I discovered that Berg has a webpage (http://www.elizabeth-berg.net/) and a Facebook page, which I will follow. I’ll be aware when the next book comes out; Berg is pretty prolific, so it might not be too far away.
Meanwhile, I found a copy of her Dream Lover on the clearance shelf at a great used book store. Dream Lover is a departure—a historical novel about the author George Sand. It’s another vaguely mirror-type occurrence for me: I’ve discovered an unsung local woman, someone who flirted with fame in her own right and was the love of a famous author’s life, although she ultimately rejected him and followed another path. She deserves some notice, I think, and I’ve been puzzling about how one writes about a fascinating historical figure. Creative non-fiction? Factual essays? Short story or novel based in fact?
Berg is still and always far down the path ahead of me; I will be interested to clear the reading decks and dive into Dream Lover.