May 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg
2011 Random House
Finished 4/22/11
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)

Product Description

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of Home Safe and The Last Time I Saw You comes a beautiful and moving novel about a man and woman, long divorced, who rediscover the power of love and family in the midst of an unthinkable crisis.

Even on their wedding day, John and Irene sensed that they were about to make a mistake. Years later, divorced, dating other people, and living in different parts of the country, they seem to have nothing in common—nothing except the most important person in each of their lives: Sadie, their spirited eighteen-year-old daughter. Feeling smothered by Irene and distanced from John, Sadie is growing more and more attached to her new boyfriend, Ron. When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together to support the daughter they love so dearly. What takes longer is to remember how they really feel about each other.

Elizabeth Berg has once again created characters who embody the many shades of the human spirit. Reading Berg’s fiction allows us to reflect on our deepest emotions, and her gifts as a writer make Once Upon a Time, There Was You a wonderful novel about the power of love, the unshakeable bonds of family, and the beauty of second chances.

Elizabeth Berg is one of the few authors I’ve continued to read for decades. Yes, decades. I first read Talk Before Sleep back in the ‘90s and since then, I’ve read almost every single one of her novels, typically the week it’s published. Her most recent books have either fallen flat or left me craving something a bit more substantial, but I keep going back, trying the latest release, hoping for something like her earlier works. Something that gives me the feeling that she’s peeked into my life and written about my thoughts and feelings. Something that describes a meal that makes my mouth water or tugs at my heartstrings, bringing a lump to my throat. Something like what Erica Bauermeister, Lisa Genova, Marisa de los Santos or Anna Quindlen have done recently with their novels. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Once Upon a Time, There Was You.

Once Upon a Time, There Was You is quite a departure from Berg’s previous novels. There’s a strong element of suspense and mystery, which I enjoyed, and the pages flew, making for a quick read. But once again, I was disappointed, wishing for something more.

Oh, dear. Perhaps I’ve outgrown Ms. Berg.

I’ve come to a point where I borrow rather than buy her novels, and I wonder if I’ll get to the point where I give up completely and simply read her blog (which is lovely and reminiscent of her earlier writing style). After five years, I know I have a difficult time writing a fresh book review, so I can imagine how tough it must be to keep writing entertaining novels.

So, I keep hoping and remain optimistic that the next book will be just the one to once again win me over.

Booklist says:

An enchanting and empathic storyteller, Berg delights in the eccentricities that shape complex personalities and excels in decoding the chemistry and paradoxes of relationships. She is also an avid appreciator of the pleasures of food, funny and assuring on the subject of age, and an advocate for kindness. All these elements are at work in her latest comedy of marriage. . . . All is droll and intriguing until Berg swerves, briefly, into the realm of terror, thus dramatically deepening questions about fear, love, family, and what one makes of one’s life. Berg’s tender and wise novels are oases in a harsh world.

Hmm, I’m not so sure I saw the comedy of marriage in this recent work.

I wrote the following in my last review for a book by Berg:

While lacking substance and peopled with forgettable characters, I still managed to zip through this fluffy read in a day or so. With 20 novels under her belt, perhaps it's time to take a break.

I could have written the exact same words for this new novel.



  1. I like Elizabeth Berg but I've never become quite as enamored of her novels as you have. It definitely sounds like you've either outgrown her or are at least displeased enough that you might want to hold back on the next novel. Just about every review of this one has described it as disappointing or flat (of those I've read, that is). I'd read reviews, next time, and see what the *other* Berg fans say, then decide whether or not to bother.

    I'm very fickle, though. I can only think of one author I'm completely devoted to and I do believe you know his name. ;)

  2. Anonymous7:14 AM

    I do think that we outgrow certain authors. I do with mystery authors, but I think that usually has more to do with characters that begin acting in ways that seem odd or even bizarre. Several have lost me over the years - ones that I read faithfully - Patricia Cornwell for one. My word, she made me mad.

    I'm sorry that Ms. Berg's books have not worked for you lately. But, as you say, after 20 novels and without having continuing characters (which keep us with them I think at times just to see what happens), it is hard to keep things fresh. Do you think that she has been pressured to write a book a year and that has sort of used up her mojo?

  3. Average??? 2.5???? I'm sad oh so sad....

    Just read Kay's comment and I gave up on Cornwell too!! I still have a few Berg books to go before this one but I hope that I'm not as disappointed as you!!

  4. Elisabeth5:08 PM

    OMG, Are you inside my head, I feel exactly like you, even down to the authors you mentioned who are more like the old Berg. I won't give up on her yet, she is due for a good one soon!

  5. Nancy - I'm not as enamored with Berg as I once was, that's for sure! Yep, next time I'll wait and see what the reviews have to say.

    Ummm, Simon? ;)

    Kay - I can't really think of any other author (that I read) who has run out of steam the way Berg has. Oh, wait. Maybe John Grisham. I stopped reading him a few years ago. Maybe you're right. Maybe Berg needs to take a break and try publishing once every 3 or 4 years.

    Staci - Yeah, I was bummed, too. On the bright side, Marisa de los Santos has a new book coming out this summer. Can. Not. Wait!!

    Elisabeth - I'm not sure if I'm ready to give up on her, either. However, I do plan to wait and see what other readers have to say about her next release before I jump in again. I need to learn to resist the temptation of a new book by her!

  6. LOL! Of course! And, Simon has a new book coming out in July - his first novel. Wahoo! I am aching to get my mitts on a copy.

  7. Nancy - Simon has a novel coming out?! I can't wait to hear what you think about it!


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