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The Year of Pleasures: A Novel Paperback – March 28, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The familiar protagonist of Berg's 13th novel (after The Art of Mending) is a Boston widow of several months, 55-year-old Betta Nolan, who fulfills her dying husband's dream of moving out to the Midwest and starting a new life. "It will give me peace to know that what you will do is exactly what we talked about," says John commandingly before dying of liver cancer; Betta, an author of children's books, sells their Beacon Hill brownstone and takes off, buying an oversized Victorian in the small town of Stewart, Ill., 49 miles from Chicago. Lonely, she finds herself tracking down three former college roommates from the late 1960s, Lorraine, Maddy and Susanna, whom she ditched once she met John. The women reappear one by one and help give her the courage to open a shop called What a Woman Wants (it'll sell "all different stuff that women loved. Beautiful things, but unusual too. Like antique birdcages with orchids growing in them"). Meanwhile, she begins to make friends in town, notably with attractive young handyman Matthew and natty oldster Tom Bartlett. Berg is a pro at putting together an affecting saga of interest to women of a certain age, yet here she seems to be writing in her sleep. There is little effort at cohesion—rather, a kind of serendipitous plot that goes every which way and a series of tentative, aborted romances. The impression readers will be left with is of a woman endlessly nurturing and rarely satisfied.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Berg is a true women’s writer whose latest exploration of one woman’s joys and sorrows will not disappoint. Her 14th novel (after 2004’s The Art of Mending) asks how we can find personal connections and transform our lives. Unlike many novels, it actually provides satisfying, if slightly formulaic, answers. Critics agree that the characters, from a college student to Betta’s single-mom neighbor, stand out for their empathic, realistic portrayals. Berg’s poetic language and command of small details relating to character and scenery impressed critics as well. Yet Year of Pleasures may not be Berg’s best effort to date. A few reviewers criticized a relatively weak plot with its obvious message about love, life, and finding the pleasures in ordinary things—even if it’s all true.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (March 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970999
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (250 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elizabeth Berg won the NEBA Award for fiction for her body of work, and was a finalist for the ABBY for Talk Before Steep. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, and the New York Times Magazine. She has also taught a writing workshop at Radcliffe College. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Nancy R. Katz VINE VOICE on April 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Berg is one of my most treasured writers since I read her first book Talk Before Sleep. Each time I am about to begin her newest book I wonder if I will enjoy it as much as the book before her last one or the book before that one and so on. And each time I am almost never disappointed because each book is filled with wonderful characters and emotional sagas written from the heart. And once again I have fallen in love not only with this writer but her latest book The Year of Pleasures which features a main character on the brink of a new change in her life.

Betta Nolan is a fifty something woman who up until her husband's death enjoyed a good life. Madly in love with her husband, Betta lives in Boston where she enjoys an almost solitary profession as a writer of children's books. Able to travel and enjoy the companionship of her husband, both she and her husband, who was a psychiatrist, never thought their time would be cut so short when he became terminally ill. With no children or relatives and few friends, it is as if they lived unto themselves in the world around them. But life stood in their way and when Betta's husband realizes she will live out her days without him, he urges her to strike out and make a new life for herself elsewhere. So when her husband dies, Betta honors her promise to him and does exactly what he urged her to do. Locking the door of her home, she sets out in her car to find a new place to live in and to grow as a woman alone but hopefully never lonely. And in the first year of widowhood, with some bumps along the way, this is exactly what Betta does finding not only a home but friends and a business which is an inspiration not only to her but to other woman in the area.
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82 of 88 people found the following review helpful By episcocrank on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book because I, like the protagonist, lost my husband to cancer at 55. I guess I was expecting a story I could relate to. Instead, I found an oddly sugar-coated fantasy that left me feeling inadequate rather than nourished.

Within four months of her beloved husband's death, Betta had sold her Boston home for $1.9 million, serendipitously found and paid cash for another house she loved halfway across the country, been instantly befriended by people of all ages, summoned several long-neglected friends to her side, sailed with barely a ripple through her first holidays without her mate, whipped up countless elaborate meals, been interviewed on a radio program, started dating, and established the boutique of her dreams in the evidently WalMart-less town. By the same point in my own bereavement, I was still barely able to utter a coherent sentence, was subsisting on take-out food, and certainly was in no condition to purchase high-end real estate or start a business. In my experience, recovery from the loss of a spouse doesn't proceed so quickly or so sparklingly. I know widows' experiences vary greatly, but I've not yet heard the likes of this story in real life.
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By C. L. Ferle on May 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a wonderfully written book, and near-perfect for anyone who suddenly finds herself past her 50th birthday and wondering what's next. While this tender novel is about dealing with grief and the loss of a beloved husband, it is also about change and reinventing yourself at midlife, no matter what your situation. It simply speaks volumes to anyone in this age group.

Elizabeth Berg is a sensitive and highly skilled writer who avoids falling prey to the ridiculous whims of commerical publishing. Berg refuses to season her story with gratuitous elements or outlandish situations. She relies instead on the poetry and gentle beauty of the ordinary. This is never easy to pull off in a novel -- yet this particular skill of Berg's brings true depth, intelligence, and a touch of domestic magic to "The Year of Pleasures."

After reading just a few pages of the novel, I found myself caring about the fate of the main character. It didn't take long for me to be pulled into her situation. I found myself asking, what would I do if I suddenly found myself in this character's shoes? Could I start over in a new place? I am so grateful that someone recommended this book, as I haven't had much luck finding a good novel centered around a middle-aged woman. I was very disappointed in the over-hyped "The Mermaid Chair," but this book rekindled my faith and made me grateful for Elizabeth Berg.
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Caiozzo on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I thouroughly enjoyed Berg's books, Talk Before Sleep and Open House, but The Year of Pleasures proved to be a disappointment. On the plus side, it is a short, very quick read, and if you like fairy tales where there is no bad witch or evil stepmother, this is the book for you. Betta is a widow, and that is inherently sad, but I truly believed that her husband John was going to turn out to be a figment of her imagination. He was UNBELIEVABLY perfect, and when humans can be cloned, we need to clone this guy and make him available to every woman in America. He sends her flowers from the grave and leaves very poetic, sensitive life-affirming and very personal cryptic messages for Betta in a china chest they both adored. Actually, they adored everything about each other; they were apparently the Stepford Couple. Miraculously, Betta does not have to concern herself with money when she is widowed, so really, the sky is the limit, as far as the fulfillment of her dreams go. I think many widows could find the happiness Betta does if they had no money concerns, memories of a super-perfect marriage to keep them warm, thirty year old friendships that suddenly re-blossom and help to make your dreams come true. This novel is NOT about hope; it is about a highly unlikely and unrealistic scenario for a widow who had a faultless and loving marriage, no money concerns, and the unbelievably good luck to find a dream Victorian to live in in a small town where everyone seems to know your name. What are the chances that anyone other than Betta could have a Benny next door or a twenty year old good-looking handyman who is just itching to begin a close friendship with a fifty year old woman?Read more ›
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