July 18, 2009
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg
2009 Random House
Finished on 6/27/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
In this new novel, beloved bestselling author Elizabeth Berg weaves a beautifully written and richly resonant story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit. Helen Ames—recently widowed, coping with loss and grief, unable to do the work that has always sustained her—is beginning to depend far too much on her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, and is meddling in her life, offering unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Helen’s problems are compounded by her shocking discovery that her mild-mannered and loyal husband was apparently leading a double life. The Ameses had painstakingly saved for a happy retirement, but that money disappeared in several large withdrawals made by Helen’s husband before he died. In order to support herself and garner a measure of much needed independence, Helen takes an unusual job that ends up offering far more than she had anticipated. And then a phone call from a stranger sets Helen on a surprising path of discovery that causes both mother and daughter to reassess what they thought they knew about each other, themselves, and what really makes a home and a family.
"Maybe Freud didn't know the answer to what women want, but Elizabeth Berg certainly does," said USA Today, and that special gift of understanding shines through in this remarkable new novel. Home Safe is an exquisitely rendered story about mothers, daughters, and finding new richness in the stages of life, in one's family, and in oneself.
Hurray!! After a few disappointments, Berg (who was once my #1 favorite author) has written another winner! It's been 15 years since I first discovered Talk Before Sleep, and in spite of a few lackluster novels, I've remained a faithful reader, always hoping to find another gem. I've enjoyed reading her blog, which is full of wonderful personal stories that make me laugh and tug at my heartstrings, and am so happy she's found her writing mojo again. As I read, I kept wondering how much of Home Safe is autobiographical. I discovered the following on Berg's blog:
What's it About?
Helen Ames is a writer who has recently lost the ability to write. And her husband. And her nestegg. Now she's worried about losing her daughter. The book looks at the nature of creativity, the mother/daughter relationship, and the surprising places one can find love and meaning.
What was the inspiration?
For the first time in my life, I was having difficulty writing. My older daughter said, "Why don't you write about that?" The other inspiration was my younger daughter. I drive her crazy, but she likes me anyway.
On finding passion in what you do:
She gives her class their next assignment: Eavesdrop on a conversation; then use it to inspire a conversation between two characters you make up. Through dialogue only, give the reader an idea of how each person looks. She watches them eagerly scribble their assignment down, and becomes aware of some kind of spreading warmth inside her. At first she is alarmed, wondering what that is. But then she recognizes it. Happiness.
When Suzie introduced Helen, she told the audience that one of the best things about books is that they are an interactive art form: that while the author may describe in some detail how a character looks, it is the reader's imagination that completes the image, making it his or her own. "That's why we so often don't like movies made from books, right?" Suzie said. "We don't like someone else's interpretation of what we see so clearly." She talked, too, about how books educate and inspire, and how they soothe souls—"like comfort food without the calories," she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one's fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page. She talked about how people complain that they don't have time to read, and reminded them that if they gave up half an hour of television a day in favor of reading, they could finish twenty-five books a year. "Books don't take time away from us," she said. "They give it back. In this age of abstraction, of multitasking, of speed for speed's sake, they reintroduce us to the elegance—and the relief!—of real, tick-tock time.
There was a time when I would buy every Elizabeth Berg novel the minute it came out in hardcover, but lately I've resigned myself to borrowing them from the library, as I did this one. I didn't want to take the risk of spending money on something I may not want to keep. But this one is defintely worth owning! If you've enjoyed Berg's earlier works (Open House, The Year of Pleasures, Ordinary Life, Never Change), I can assure you that this one won't disappoint. And doesn't it have a lovely cover?!
It will probably be another year before Berg publishes another novel. Until then, I guess I'll just have to read her blog. She really cracks me up sometimes. Maybe because I see a lot of myself in her actions. Here's a glimpse at her most recent post:
June 24, 2009
Just back from an evening walk around the neighborhood. It was about ten thousand degrees today, with about 400% humidity, and at 8pm, dogs' tongues were still hanging out far enough to be streetsweepers. People were sitting at outdoor restaurant tables drinking wine and patting their foreheads with dinner napkins. Children were listlessly standing around on the playgrounds. As I walked past houses, I was engaging in my favorite practice of looking into people's windows and I got CAUGHT, and it was very embarrassing. I was going past a place where people in a second floor condo had used fabric on their ceiling, they'd gathered it tightly together in a very beautiful and interesting and harem-ish way and I was staring and staring up at it and then all of a sudden I noticed a man in another window of the room staring back at me. His hands were on his hips and he did not appear to be smiling. Or waving. Or friendly. Well. What would you do in a situation like that? Turn and walk away? That would be the sensible thing to do. Not me. I kept staring, but I shifted my gaze just SLIGHTLY to the right, so he would possibly think I was looking at something else. The outside brickwork on his condo, perhaps. Someone who lived next to him. Or, you know, maybe an airplane. THEN I walked away.
Oh, those fireflies tonight, flitting around the gardens. I wish I were a together and technically competent person who carried a camera at all times, one that could take pictures at night, and I would have taken so many lovely photos and posted them on my website so that you too could be magically transported. But I had no camera. And also I forgot how to put photos on here, but I'm going to learn again because I have to put up a photo of my dog, Homer. People think the dog on my website with the halo over his head is Homer, but it is not, that dog is Toby, best dog in the world, who died, hence the halo, you see.
I am reading a galley of Lorrie Moore's new novel and mama mia, is it good. It is GOOD. And she makes you laugh out loud, so she gets even more points. Next up is Suite Francaise, which I STILL haven't read but now I have to because Elizabeth Strout, who wrote Olive Kitteridge told me she loved it and I love Olive Kitteridge so what can I do?
I'm thinking a fragrant, lukewarm bath is in order. Summer pajamas. Then the books. I wish I could read by fireflies, like I did as a little girl one summer night when I was nine. I loved it. The fireflies did not, I think. I let them all go the next morning and not a one of them looked back and said, "Hey, thanks for the hospitality. Loved the holes you punched in the jar lid."
Also, I wish we could have fireflies in winter. Wouldn't THAT be pretty? Those little lanterns against the snow? Someone once said to me, "Boy. You sure wish for things a lot." And I said, "SO?????" I should have said, "I wish it wouldn't bother you so much."
Yep. Women's fiction. I'm sure my husband would be bored with Berg's blog. He'd read this and think, huh?! Well, I happen to like it. She has a way of turning the ordinary into something special.
Off to find my blogging mojo. I think I left it on the plane out to Oregon. Oh, yeah. We were on vacation last week. I had a great time at our mini family reunion in Depoe Bay. Fifteen of us had good times eating lots of homemade tortillas and clam chowder (not together!), climbing to the top of Cape Kiwanda (a huge sand dune) in Pacific City, kayaking on Devil's Lake, playing hours of Mah Jong, watching the whales cruise by just off the bluff at Little Whale Cove, hiking through Silver Falls State Park (10 waterfalls!), enjoying the gorgeous Oregon Garden in Silverton, and... getting addicted to Facebook. It's been almost two weeks since I last posted here! I have three more reviews to write/post and I hope to get some photos up from the trip. Don't go away. I'll be back!