Sunday, January 3

Home Safe - Elizabeth Berg

Helen Ames is still devastated by the sudden death of her husband over breakfast one morning - it may have been eleven months ago but the shock is as new as it was when she turned around to see him slumped on the floor. Dan took care of the details of their life together, leaving Helen to write the novels that contribute the bulk of their income. Since his death she just can't write, and though her publisher seems calm, she knows that's because they don't understand that Helen will never be able to write again - all the things that used to inspire and calm her now serve only to remind her of what's missing. And nothing works the way it used to, most of all her head, but also her relationship with her single daughter, Tess - whatever Helen tries to do seems to annoy Tess, and the harder she tries the angrier Tess gets, even though Helen's just trying to help.
When her accountant rings to say that Dan withdrew $750,000 almost a year ago, Helen's stunned. She can't imagine what he would have spent the money on, and over and over again in her mind she looks at the mild, loyal husband she thought she knew .
It was when I wrote up my end of year summary that I realised I hadn't read a single Berg novel in twelve months, and I'm so glad I returned. Her books may deal with serious, significant themes and devastating events but they're also uplifting, comforting and deeply satisfying. There were a couple of elements in Home Safe that particularly resonated with me - the first was the exploration of mother-daughter relationships, both Helen and Tess's but also the briefer but vibrant exploration of Helen's relationship with her mother, Eleanor. Reading these passages made me resolve to be more compassionate and giving in my own mother/daughter relationship, though that's sometimes easier in the abstract than in reality.
I also really liked the moment when the deeply feeling, sensitive Helen is confronted by her tolerant best friend Midge, who Helen thinks doesn't understand the depths of her despair and grief:
"Let me tell you something, Miss I-Feel-the-Pea. I feel the pea, too! All of us feel the pea! The difference is what each of us chooses to do about it!". ... Helen has always thought of herself as being different, as feeling more than others.
Sometimes she views it as a gift, more often as a curse. But it had not fully occurred to her, until now, that if someone doesn't react as she does, it doesn't mean they feel any differently...
"You know the story of the person who's thirsty?" Midge says. "Well, the person is complaining and complaining and complaining that she's so thirsty. 'Oh, my God, I'm thirsty, I am so thirsty. She's given a drink of water. And you know what happens then? She says, 'Oh, my God, I was thirsty, I was so thirsty!'"

And this is what I love about Berg's writing - it reflects truths about ourselves and others. Oh, and it's uplifting, comforting and deeply satisfying! - Alex

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