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Home Safe: A Novel Paperback – September 29, 2009
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In this stunning novel, beloved bestselling author Elizabeth Berg weaves a beautifully written and richly resonant story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit. Helen Amesârecently widowed, coping with grief, unable to do the work that has always sustained herâis beginning to depend too much on her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, meddling in her life and offering unsolicited advice. Then Helen is shocked to discover that her mild-mannered and seemingly loyal husband was apparently leading a double life. When a phone call from a stranger sets Helen on a surprising path of discovery, both mother and daughter reassess what they thought they knew about each other, themselves, and what really makes a home and a family.
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Berg gets the devastation of the loss of one's partner. The realization of the codependency, the crippling lassitude that Helen feels. BUT, I did not like Helen, Tessa, or even, Midge. While the beginning of the book delved into the gut wrenching loss of Helen's life partner, it sank into banality, rushing from shallow scene to scene, losing the impact of the captivating introduction. I kept waiting for the ah ha moment, the reveal of who Dan was, yet, the book's characters remained hidden by Helen's whining. She roared with emotion out of the gate, but lost both steam and my interest as the story progressed. I would have loved to feel some triumph for Helen, but could only feel relieved when the story ended. I love Elizabeth Berg's storytelling. Usually she connects with the reader in a personal and all encompassing way. She has a wonderful ability to capture and describe middle age, insecurity, divisions that make us male or female, old and young in a profound and realistic way. Open House and Range of Motion are much better examples of her terrific writing.
This story is about a widowed writer named Helen who has had writer's block since losing her husband a year before. She calls on her adult daughter to help her with the smallest of repairs around the house and dotes on the girl, who is longing for her independence.
I was intrigued into reading this book for two reasons: I thought it would be interesting to follow a middle-aged woman seeking fulfillment and an income in an ordinary job (Helen applies for retail work at the book's start), and I was equally intrigued by the come-on stating that a mystery arises when Helen discovers that her husband had withdrawn a large sum of money from their savings (around $800,000). But Helen's step into earning a paycheck from something other than writing--an aspect I thought her readers who are not writers could relate to--fizzles early on. And the so-called "shocking discovery" (as the book jacket states) is solved early in the novel and isn't all that intriguing after all. I was expecting a double life to be revealed, but the mystery is more lifeless than not.
I found the people in this novel to be flat, rather predictable textbook characters (the inept widow who'd never had to so much as balance a checkbook before her husband died; the supportive, wise-cracking best friend; the overbearing mother). I kept reading, however, because Berg has a way of making the reading effortless.
I'm guessing that Berg drew from her own life when writing this book (I noticed that the name of her real-life editor, who is mentioned in the acknowledgments, is the same as the editor in the story, only the letters are mixed up). But, Stephen King's work aside (Misery; Secret Window, Secret Garden), writers tend not to be interesting characters.
I will always be a Berg fan, and am looking forward to more gems from her, in the likes of The Pull of the Moon, Joy School, Talk Before Sleep, and Range of Motion. Unfortunately, Home Safe doesn't fit in this category.