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Once Upon a Time, There Was You: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2011

3.4 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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A Letter to Readers from Elizabeth Berg

Dear Reader,

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.

Elizabeth Berg


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
“Truth rings clearly from every page. Berg captures the way women think—and especially the way they talk to other women—as well as any writer I can think of.”—The Charlottesville Observer, about Talk Before Sleep
“Lyrical from start to finish . . . Shaped by Berg’s artistic talents, these stories of ordinary people in ordinary situations are anything but ordinary.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram, about Ordinary Life
“Berg writes with humor and understanding about matters of the heart.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, about Until the Real Thing Comes Along
“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.”—Booklist

“This addictive read shows anew what a wonderful writing talent Berg is: strong characters illuminate a tender story about what makes a marriage work (or not), and how a family binds itself together despite things that pull it apart.”—Library Journal 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068657
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068654
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #998,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elizabeth Berg is one of my absolute favorite authors. I read every book she writes.
I don't like them all, but I like most of them, and for someone with as many books under her belt is doing good to only have a few misses. But this is one of them.

First, I have to say (and I always say this of Berg as it's true) she is great at developing characters in a way that other writers can't. She develops characters so deeply that you intimately know them. Maybe that's sometimes why the story falls a little flat because you feel like the characters are 3 dimensional, people you know.

I won't ruin the story and it should be read if you are a Berg fan. However, I'll just tell you that the story is again the internal struggle Berg is so famous for. But the story doesn't go much of anywhere. Some events happen, and it's a little anti-climatic. Then, the book ends, and is even more anti-climatic. I really feel like the end of the book is the beginning of the story for Irene. I think that's how you're supposed to feel at the end of the book, except I think I would be more interested in the story that comes after and not the one I read. I can relate to a lot of the struggle Irene has, and while she can be a bit unlikeable, it's her flaws that are also endearing. This book was a little too long, and a little "been there done that." I feel like I've read this story...A LOT lately. Not just by Berg but other's too. It's very similiar to her last years book, and a little like the character in Home Safe (though I really loved that book). But I feel like this is the "going story" in modern books....and it just fell short.

Berg wraps it up quickly. I don't feel like she knew where she wanted this story to go and faltered a few times like she wasn't sure where to head.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the story of Irene and John, a divorced couple, and their child Sadie, who is struggling to declare her independence from her overbearing (but very caring) mom. So when Sadie doesn't call after a weekend of rock climbing, a lot of friends think Irene is overreacting when she sounds an alarm. The crisis brings Irene and John together, with unexpected results.

I will echo what another reviewer wrote about Berg; she develops characters like no other writer. Irene in particular jumps off the page. She is flawed, sometimes frustrating, often lovable and deeply human. The ending was surprising and a bit saddening, but it also felt like life. If you love Berg, don't miss this book. It is true that it contained disturbing elements that were atypical of the author, but she handles them with her typical style and grace.
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Format: Hardcover
It's always hard for me to write a review of a book by a favorite author when I am disappointed with the book. Such is the case with Elizabeth's Berg's latest. I usually love her books and relate to the characters but this book felt flat and uninvolving.

The basic storyline revolves around Irene and John, a middle aged divorced couple who live in different states and share custody of their daughter Sadie. When a family emergency arises John and Irene are brought back together and we learn a lot about their past.

Main problem? I didn't like John or Irene; John is so puritanical and rigid in his thinking and Irene is such a smother mother and whiner I didn't want to spend anytime with them. Sadie, who is only 18 was far more likeable, even when she wasn't making the smartest decisions. Just when the book got interesting it was over. I think I would be more interested in the story that happens after the last page of this book.

Definitely not on par with her other novels.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Was this book really written by Elizabeth Berg? If true, it is hard to believe. It was disjointed and made no sense at all. I have read all of her books and it looks like this one was done purely for money! A disappointment is putting it very mildly. Don't buy this book. Save your money.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read most of this author's books and enjoyed most of them - not all, but then again, I don't believe one can enjoy everything any particular author writes. With this book, I got hooked into the story quickly. The story of Irene, John and Sadie is a strong one - or rather, it can be. The premise of the story (without revealing it) is good, solid and began in the book that way. However, the tragedy that struck Sadie, I feel, wouldn't have been resolved the way Ms. Berg wrote it. Again, hard for me to explain why I feel this way because then I'd have to reveal the plot. Simply put, the tragedy was a strong part of the story; it's resolution too weak.

The main characters needed some tuning. John, divorced father of Sadie, was a good dad, had been a good husband, but Irene (in my opinion) is simply a wishy-washy character. Not surprising that John divorced her. I don't think Ms. Berg intended her to be that way - but she whined and wallowed throughout the entire book, even in the end, when Ms. Berg neatly tied up each character (though I feel not too realistically), I felt Irene learned nothing, ended up not even a bit ahead or changed. And that disappointed me. The ending of the book was too loose. It was not too believable either. I think Ms. Berg, being the talented author that she is, could've ended this book much, much better. The actual ending made me think "Huh?" And I was disappointed that I had come to the end of the book to feel that. And the daughter character, Sadie, in the book's conclusion, in reality would never have become the way she was described.

So basically, what I'm trying to convey without giving away the story, is that the actual story is a solidly good one. The characters, with the exception of John, are not strong enough.
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