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Once Upon a Time, There Was You: A Novel Paperback – October 4, 2011
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A Letter to Readers from Elizabeth Berg
It’s that time of year again, near-spring, when I’m one step short of going out and tugging on whatever shoots of green I can find. I am heartened by the sight of robins everywhere, even if the buds on the trees remain tightly closed. Spring is an exercise in having faith and learning patience: It will come, when it’s ready; and then I can engage in my favorite practice of sitting on the front porch and watching dogs walk by with their people.
On April 5, Random House will release my new novel, Once Upon a Time, There Was You. This is the story of a long-divorced couple who are thrust together again after something terrible happens to the only thing they still have in common: their 18 year old daughter. I wanted to see what happened if you put two people who used to be in an intimate relationship, but now are estranged, back together. Would they remember what they used to love about each other? Would they see all over again what they hated? Might they get back together again?
The other day, I was doing an interview for this novel, and I told the woman interviewing me that I was struck by how many times I’ve heard people--both men and women, but mostly women--say they walked down the aisle knowing it was the wrong this to do, but they did it anyway. The interviewer paused, then said, “That’s what I did. And I got divorced. But then we got back together.” Bingo! I thought, what changed in those two people that made them able to be with each other in a way they could not be before? What does marriage require, really? What does the act of loving honestly and fully require? That’s the kind of thing my novel looks at.
It wouldn’t be a book of mine if it didn’t also celebrate female friendship. And there is, as usual, a mix of humor and pathos. But there is also something brand new, which is suspense. An element of real creepiness. But I’ll just keep you in...well, suspense about what that is.
I recently read a quote by Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach that I loved, which says, “An interesting book is food that makes us hungry.” I hope that’s what my book does. In addition to being an enjoyable read that makes you laugh and perhaps tear up a little, too, I want it to make you think, to make you wonder, to take a look at your own life in new ways. If that happens, we’ll both be satisfied.
Thank you for reading this letter, thanks for buying my books, and most of all, thanks for making the dream of a 9-year old with crooked bangs and a heart full of longing to share what she felt inside, come true.
Sincerely, Elizabeth Berg--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“[Berg] is an enchanting and empathic storyteller. . . . [Her] tender and wise novels are oases in a harsh world.”—Booklist
“Hard to put down . . . This addictive read shows anew what a wonderful writing talent Berg is: strong characters illuminate a tender story about what makes marriage work (or not), and how family binds itself together despite things that pull it apart.”—Library Journal
“The prolific Berg delivers the goods in this perceptive novel. . . . Berg’s masterful portraits and keen insight makes for a memorable read.”—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Elizabeth Berg
“[Berg] has a knack for taking you right into the soul of her characters, as they respond to joy and tragedy in a perfectly imperfect way.”—Chicago Sun-Times, about The Last Time I Saw You
“Pitch-perfect . . . [encompasses] everything you’ve ever felt, but couldn’t put into tangible words.”—Chicago Tribune, about The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted
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Top Customer Reviews
Irene and John are a divorced, middle-aged couple living on opposite ends of the country and still struggling to make their individual ways in the world without one another. Despite the fact their relationship and subsequent marriage was never anything either of them felt strongly passionate about while it was happening, and they separated years earlier, the two constantly think back on their time together and can't seem to break out of the shell of their life together. Their relationship is further complicated and called into question when the couple is reunited when their eighteen-year-old daughter Sadie finds herself in an extremely terrifying and dangerous situation.
I was pleasantly surprised by "Once Upon a Time, There Was You", to be honest. It was readable and interesting. However, right after I finished reading it I dove right into "The Year of Pleasures: A Novel", probably my favorite book of all time, and after only a few pages, I realized how dull and uninspired "Once Upon a Time, There Was You" seems in comparison. It just lacks the beauty of language and observation that makes some of Berg's other works shine so brightly.
So it's sort of a toss up- "Once Upon a Time" isn't terrible- it's readable, it's interesting, but it's definitely not Berg at her best. It's much better than some of the other books I've read this past year- Berg still makes the reader deeply care about her characters and so many authors just don't bother doing that anymore. But if you only had time to read one Elizabeth Berg book, it shouldn't be this one. Do yourself a favor and pick up Joy School (Ballantine Reader's Circle), The Year of Pleasures: A Novel, The Pull of the Moon: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle), or Range of Motion: A Novel instead if you really want to see what astounding magic Elizabeth Berg is capable of weaving with words and observations.
In this most recent book, Berg recreates that comfort as well as something more -- an element of unease and unresolvable conflict, of expectations (the reader's) frustrated and unmet. And this is new, it seems to me, in Berg's fictional universe. So it represents a risk. Even though her many long-time loyal fans will, no doubt, stick with her, regardless, while a few may look elsewhere next time they decide to read a new novel.
Apart from commercial considerations, though, what is it that Berg has created this time that is, while utterly real, a little offputting to those readers used to the kind of warm-hearted comfort she usually writes into being in her books?
It is hard to articulate, but it seems as if she's written a family-centric story with characters whose idiosyncrasies refuse to be adjusted enough, in the course of the novel's story, to create a more typically Bergian happy ending.
Though the happiness at the end isn't missing. It's just not quite what the reader has been led to anticipate. Each of the three major characters ends up happier than before, with the world for each suitably altered, but the hope that a marriage once over can be reconstituted, years later, with all the good parts made primary, and all the not so good parts permanently jettisoned, isn't what this new Berg wants to hand over this time.
I think she is responding -- in her own characteristic way -- to the moment we live in and the necessary lessons we are learning now. So this is a novel with many pleasures and, yet again, comforts, but with something else added to the usual Bergian cake mix. And that must have required courage -- the kind most will applaud.