January 24, 2007

The Handmaid and the Carpenter

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by
Elizabeth Berg

Contemporary Fiction
Rating: DNF

From Publishers Weekly:

Berg's sweetly understated dramatization of the Nativity story casts Mary and Joseph as provincial teenagers who try to honor family tradition in spite of challenging circumstances. Alternating between the voices of the holy couple, Berg relates a romance that blossoms at the wedding of relatives between the 16-year-old carpenter from Nazareth and the comely 13-year-old girl originally from Sepphoris. Mary, dreamy and intractable, already entertains notions of miraculous circumstances surrounding her own birth to her barren mother, Anne. Joseph is instantly smitten and engenders the trust of both families for a betrothal, yet Mary holds back, cherishing a sense of greater destiny. Escaping a near rape by a Greek man by the river, Mary then receives the angel's message that she will bear an extraordinary son, despite never having known a man; the sadly unwed Mary must return to Joseph, who repudiates her until he, too, is visited in a dream by an angel directing him on the honorable course. With Herod's decree that everyone return to their hometowns to register for the census, Joseph and the near-term Mary set off on their arduous and momentous journey to Bethlehem. Berg handles the gospel passages with a tender reverence.

Inconceivable! How is it possible that I not only didn't care for this book, but that I didn't even finish it?! Just shy of the halfway point, I called it quits. It just wasn't doing a thing for me. How terribly disappointing, especially since it was one of my favorite birthday presents this year. Rats! This is the second book by Berg (one of my all-time favorite authors) that has failed to impress me; We Are All Welcome Here was last year’s disappointment. I have read every single novel by this author; in fact, the only thing of hers that I haven't read is a nonfiction work (Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True).

On May 1st, Ms. Berg’s upcoming novel is set to lay down in bookstores across the country. I own every book by this author and rarely wait for the paperback edition. Other than what I can glean from the cover art (a couple in World War II military attire), I know absolutely nothing about Dream When You're Feeling Blue. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but this is one of my favorite periods to read about. Maybe I’ll just have to pay Barnes & Noble a visit and give the first few chapters a read before I decide whether or not I want to spend my money on this one.


  1. Ouch! Guess we disagreed on this one, Les. Perhaps I was just in a very receptive mood when I read TH&TC (and I definitely am NOT one for religious/inspirational fiction). I rather liked looking at Mary and Joseph as just another couple coping with family and the expectations of tradition. At a reading/signing for TH&TC, Ms. Berg said that her publisher had been after her for some time to write a holiday theme book; however, there was no way she was going to do the usual glittering snowflakes/cozy by the fire holiday book. Well, she definitely accomplished what she set out to do.

    Berg has always been a favorite author of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed Year of Pleasures; however, We Are All Welcome Here did nothing for me. So, I'm eager for release of Dream When You're Feeling Blue to see which Elizabeth Berg reveals herself.

  2. I am also intrigued about Dream When You're Feeling Blue. I read an Elizabeth Berg novel a few years ago called Talk Before Sleep, but don't recall much of it. But I know that she writes well...most of the time, right Les?

  3. Nice strategy there. I have actually never read a book by this author but we'll see what happens - the year is still young.

    I know how it feels when you build this loyalty with a author and then have this let down - Binchy and King were like that for me along with several others. i felt cheated!!

  4. Anonymous6:59 AM

    I haven't read this one, Les...but, I'm also a Berg fan, so it's been on my wish list for a while (maybe I'll need to rethink that!). Her book on writing is great. I think you'd like it.


  5. Anonymous2:41 PM

    I'm so bummed you didn't like it. I was so excited to be able to get it for you since I know she's one of your favorite authors. Oh well, I guess even the best authors write a stinker sometime.

  6. Marcia - Oh, well. Guess we can't always like the same books, can we? You sure have met a lot of authors! I would love to attend a book signing with Ms. Berg. Thanks for the insight to this inspiration for this novel. Looking forward to comparing notes with you on Dream When You're Feeling Blue. :) I'm going to try to re-read a favorite book every month this year and may just have to pull one of Berg's off the shelf. So many to choose from...

    Bybee - Talk Before Sleep was the first book of Berg's I read. Yes, most of the time her books are winners. A few that have been disappointing, but it's rare.

    Nessie - Hey, why spend the money if the first chapter or two doesn't grab you, ya know? Yes, I hate being let down by my favorite authors, but they're not perfect, so I cut them a little slack. Berg has disappointed me twice now and if the next one's a bomb, I don't know what I'll do. Cross that bridge when I get to it, I suppose.

    Wendy - Oooh, good to know that her nonfiction work on writing is a winner. I'm not a writer, but I love reading about the process. That reminds me. I still need to read Stephen King's On Writing. It's been on my shelf for a long time.

    Jen - I'm sorry!! I so wanted to love this book and I was thrilled that you guys gave it to me for my birthday! I guess that's the risk of giving books, eh? I have another (from Amy) that I didn't like either. Let me know if you want to borrow the Berg book.

  7. Anonymous9:27 AM

    It's particularly disappointing when a favorite author's book fails to delight us. I have a couple of Berg's books on my shelves but have yet to read anything by her. As a fan of her work, which would you suggest starting with?

  8. Lesley - Hmm, that's always a tough question since every has their own taste in books. I liked Open House since it dealt with a woman going through a divorce (been there, done that). I also liked The Year of Pleasures. It deals with the death of a spouse, but not in a sappy, over-the-top manner like Good Grief (Lolly Winston). Talk Before Sleep was the first I read of Berg's. I loved it, but it's your typical "women's friendships with someone dying of cancer" tale. Durable Goods, True to Form and Joy School all deal with the same young protagonist (Katie Nash) and are quite enjoyable. Let me know what you wind up reading, if any! Hope this helped.


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