Note: This review appeared in my monthly newsletter (Jan. 2005). Apologies to those who have previously read it.
The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
Rating: A+ (5/5 Excellent!)
Top Ten List for 2005
I certainly didn't intend to read two books about widows within the same month. Nonetheless, Good Grief seemed more "fluffy" than The Year of Pleasures. Both women moved quite a distance from the home and community they shared with their husbands, embarking on a new life and livelihood, yet that's where their commonality ends. Unlike Good Grief, which I wasn't that impressed with until it redeemed itself in the second half of the narrative, The Year of Pleasures had me from the very first page. While I thought Good Grief was a decent read, Berg's character dealt with the same issues so much more maturely. Maybe I could relate more to Betta's loss since I'm closer to her age than Sophie's in Good Grief. Or maybe I just hope I would behave with more dignity than Sophie did.
Someone recently asked what questions I would ask of my current read's author. I said I don't think I'd ask her anything, but rather tell her that I love her books and that she always manages to create female characters that I feel I know or would want to know. She can write about the simple act of preparing a meal or unpacking a moving van full of household items and cause me to nod my head in agreement. I love Berg's descriptive voice, pulling me into a home rather than a house. In my mind's eye, I recognize the furnishings, get ideas for my own home, irrationally wish to talk to the main character, if only to say, "Yes! I know exactly how you feel!"
My book is littered with post-it notes like a trail of breadcrumbs marking my way back to the beginning, there to remind me of something someone said or did which caused me to nod my head or quietly mutter, "yes" or "me, too" (for example, the meditative quality of washing dishes by hand). As I turned the final page, I literally whined, "Nooooo!" for I thought I had more time with Betta and didn't realize the remaining pages were the customary "acknowledgments," "about the author," "about the type," etc. Had I not promised the book to a dear friend, I'd start all over and read it a second time. Instead, I'll wait patiently for the laydown date (I had an Advanced Reader Copy) and rush to my local brick & mortar to pick up a beautiful hardcover copy for my permanent collection. This is definitely a keeper, as are all her books.
I could've easily finished the book in one sitting, but chose to put it aside every few chapters, so as to savor the experience. I feel like Berg has returned to her earlier style of narrative. Her previous novel, The Art of Mending, was quite good, but lacked that special magic in which I feel so connected to her characters and their emotional dilemmas. A Year of Pleasures will no doubtedly wind up in my Top Ten for 2005. (And it did!)