May 23, 2011
Once Upon a Time, There Was You
Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg
2011 Random House
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)
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.
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.