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The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Novel Hardcover – November 21, 2017
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“For several days after [finishing The Story of Arthur Truluv], I felt lifted by it, and I found myself telling friends, also feeling overwhelmed by 2017, about the book. Read this, I said, it will offer some balance to all that has happened, and it is a welcome reminder we’re all neighbors here.”—Chicago Tribune
“Not since Paul Zindel’s classic The Pigman have we seen such a unique bond between people who might not look twice at each other in real life. This small, mighty novel offers proof that they should.”—People, Book of the Week
“Charming . . . Truluv is a novel for these contentious times. We could all use a bit of Arthur’s ego-free understanding and forgiveness of fellow human beings. When the inevitable happens in this heartwarming novel, good luck convincing yourself that the lump in your throat is just a sympathy response to one of Gordon [the cat]’s hairballs.”—USA Today
“I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with these lovable people in [Elizabeth] Berg’s world of unabashed optimism. Sometimes that’s just what’s needed.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Berg is always good, but this novel is so, so good. I could not put it down. It’s so beautiful about people and life.”—Publishers Weekly
“The sweet, sentimental tale of an elderly man and a teenager coming into each other’s lives at just the right moment . . . In the vein of Fannie Flagg, this life-affirming story is a definite choice for Berg’s many fans and anyone looking for a little break from the darker novels that have been so popular lately.”—Library Journal
“Fans of Meg Wolitzer, Emma Straub, or [Elizabeth] Berg’s previous novels will appreciate the richly complex characters and clear prose. Redemptive without being maudlin, this story of two misfits lucky to have found one another will tug at readers’ heartstrings.”—Booklist
“Elizabeth Berg’s characters jump right off the page and into your heart. I dare you to read this novel and not fall in love with Arthur Truluv. His story will make you laugh and cry, and will show you a love that never ends, and what it means to be truly human.”—Fannie Flagg, author of The Whole Town’s Talking
“I don't know if I’ve ever read a more affecting book about the natural affinity between the young and the elderly than Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv. It makes the rest of us—strivers and preeners and malcontents—seem almost irrelevant.”—Richard Russo, author of Everybody’s Fool
“Elizabeth Berg reminds us of both the richness of any human life and the heart’s needed resilience.”—Jane Hirshfield, author of The Beauty: Poems
About the Author
Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Open House (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), Talk Before Sleep, and The Year of Pleasures, as well as the short story collection The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. She adapted The Pull of the Moon into a play that enjoyed sold-out performances in Chicago and Indianapolis. Berg’s work has been translated into twenty-seven languages, and three of her novels have been turned into television movies. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a quality reading series dedicated to serving author, audience, and community. She teaches one-day writing workshops and is a popular speaker at venues around the country. Some of her most popular Facebook postings have been collected in Make Someone Happy. She lives outside Chicago.
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"The Story of Arthur Truluv" is, to me, a return to that earlier form. But it also shows Berg's evolution as a writer in that the characters in this book don't require much development- Berg is able to clearly express their essence in just a few paragraphs, which is really magical to experience as a reader. Berg is also brilliant at crafting charming and fascinating observations of the mundane things that occur in the everyday- through her characters, these moments become remarkable, poignant, and/or hysterical. (I especially laughed at the reference to Chico's in this particular book.)
The basic story: Arthur "Truluv" is a very lonely widower with a heart of gold. In his daily travels back and forth to the cemetery to visit his recently deceased wife, he creates genuine friendships with a lonely teenage girl he notices hiding out at the cemetery and his elderly and lonely neighbor, Lucille. Of course, all of their fates are intertwined.
I thought this book was beautifully written, charming, and not at all schmaltzy or sentimental. I read it in the span of two afternoons. While it's not my favorite Berg book (oh, Katie Nash, your books will forever be my favorite. I was slightly concerned that Maddy, the lonely teenage girl in this book, *might* have been related to Katie in some way, but I didn't notice anything in the book that specifically linked Katie and Maddy) , "The Story or Arthur Truluv" is definitely my favorite Berg book from the last few years.
I think your mileage may vary based on what you hope/expect from Elizabeth Berg and from fiction books, but I really recommend this.
"A promise is a promise, even if it's only one you made to yourself."
He cares about words. He taught her one of her favorite words: hiraeth, a Welsh word that means a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that maybe never was; it means nostalgia and yearning and grief for lost places."
"She doesn't exactly know why kids don't like her. She's good-looking enough. She has a sense of humor. She's not dumb. She guesses it's because they can sense how much she needs them. They are like kids in a circle holding sticks, picking on the weak thing. It is in people, to be entertained by cruelty."
"He'll probably just take a walk around the block after dinner and hope Lucille Howard is not sitting out on her porch. If she's sitting on her porch, he's a dead man. Lucille taught fourth grade for many years, and she seems to think the world is her classroom. She's a bit didactic for Arthur's tastes, a little condescending. Odd, then, that at the thought f seeing her, his weary old heart accelerates. He supposes it could be an erratic beat, he gets them, but he'd prefer to call it something else. So much of everything is what you call it."
"Arthur thinks that, above all, aging means the abandonment of criticism and the taking on of compassionate acceptance. He sees that as a good trade."
"But adults complicate everything. They are by nature complicators. They learned to make things harder than they need to be and they learned to talk way too much. Not that he isn't guilty of his own sins, as an adult. Hiss loss of enthusiasm for spontaneity, for one. Nola used to complain about that. "Let 's go for a drive!" she'd say, and he'd say "When?" and she'd say "NOW!" "Where?" he'd ask and she'd say "Anywhere!" And he'd say, oh, he couldn't right then, Finally she stopped asking, because he always said he couldn't do it right then. But he could have! He cold have and should have. You ask kinds if they want to go for a drive, what do they say? YES!
"Just one look, it happens ore often than people think. Happened with him and Nola. He looked at her standing at the candy counter at the dime store and everything inside him took the express elevator down, then up, zip-a-dee-doo-dah. 'Miss?" he'd said around the lump in his throat. She'd turned toward him and smiled, and he'd said, "I'm going to marry you." And she hadn't run away. She'd said, "When?"
"Isn't it funny. All the years they've lived next to each other and so rarely do they cross each other's thresholds. He liked it better when he was a kid and he and his friends ran into and out of each other's houses as though they lived in all of them."
When Arthur is asked by Maddy about his spending time at the gravesites where his wife Nola is buried, he replies: "It's just pleasant for me to imagine their lives," he says. "They're Nola's neighbors, I want to know who they are."
"He feels like she's the smallest little plant, dying from lack of water But then he realizes he must tread carefully in this regard. People who don't feel cared for are not always comfortable being cared for".
"Why do they pick on her? One of the things Maddy has of her mother's is a collection of Tori Amos CDs. Maddy listens to those CDs a lot, and she's read about Tori. She draws comfort from a quote she read that was attributed to the singer: "What girls do to each other is beyond description. No Chinese torture comes close."
"Libraries used to be sanctuaries. Quiet places, with shafts of sunlight falling on rows and rows of books. Stories seeming to beckon. Now there is too much to do there, too much to see. He doesn't do well with such stimulation. He's more of a one-thing-at-a-time man."
"His face takes on the kind of desperate and frozen quality so many men's faces take on when they don't want to cry. It's a fragile fierceness, heartbreaking to behold."
"She nods, then begins to rock slowly in her chair. For a long time, neither she nor Arthur speaks. Their chairs do the talking for them."
"But then when Frank came into my life, well, it was like plugging in the Christmas tree."
"But what do you DO? You don't even go to church! You take care of your roses and that's it!" Arthur rocks for a while. Lucille's chair has gone still, but Arthur rocks for a while. "Let me ask you something" he says, finally. Did you ever hear anyone say they wanted to be a writer?" "Yes, I've heard lots of people say that", she replies. Arthur says "Everybody wants to be a WRITER". He stops his rocking to look over at her and says "But what we need are READERS. Right? Where would writers be without readers? Who are they going to write for? And actors, what are they without an audience? Actors, painters, dancers, comedians, even just ordinary people doing ordinary things, what are they without an audience of some sort? See, that's what I do. I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator, that's what I do and that's all I want to do. I worked for a lot of years. I did a lot of things for a lot of years. Now, well, here I am in the rocking chair, and I don't mind it, Lucille. I don't feel useless. I feel lucky."
"Her parents left her a nice inheritance, and she bought her house because she thought it was charming and that eventually she'd need all that space, but she never did. Lots of closed doors. And if there's anything that makes you feel lonely, it's a lot of closed doors in your own house."
"It's a note from Maddy, a quote of some kind: 'What is it that makes a family? Certainly no document does, no legal pronouncement or accident of birth. No, real families come from choices we make about who we want to be bound to, and the ties to such families live in our hearts."
"She goes back to bed, turns out the light, and can hear herself start to snore before she falls off into sleep. She doesn't know why so many people hate snoring. She finds it soothing, White noise, with a ruffle."
"The mid-December morning sun is pushing so hard through the window it's as though it is knocking. Arthur lies in bed in his blue pajamas, thinking. Life is such a funny thing. So arbitrary-seeming, but sometimes he just can't help but think that there really is a grand plan. In a way, it reminds him of square dancing, how you can see the pattern fully only by looking at it from above, by not being a part of it."
"Star to the right. Arthur likes to think about that term. Couples walk to each other and join right hands in a star formation and then walk in the direction they are facing. And what he hopes is that he'll see Nola again, and that's how it will be. They'll join hands and walk off together in this new direction they're facing."
Maddy says to Lucille's comment about Arthur's wife Nora 'not being anywhere in the cemetery': "Well, see, I think that she is there, in the cemetery, for Arthur. Her spirit is strong there. He feels her and he talks to her. I understand that. I feel things in cemeteries too, don't you?"
Arthur says to Maddy "Nola once told me she wished people could be stars in the sky and look down on those that they loved. I always wished that could be so. Let's you and I pretend it's true, even if it isn't. And after I die, why you look up in the sky for two stars, real close together. That will be Nola and me. Look up at us sometimes."
Right at the end of the novel there is a conversation Arthur has with his deceased wife Nola at her headstone, when his heart and bones tell him he cannot come any more, which brought me to my knees.
I love finding out how a book title gets its name. You'll know it when you come across it - Maddy says to Arthur "I'm going to call you Truluv. We'll spell it T-R-U-L-U-V. That's your new name."
Right before the beginning of the novel Berg quotes Thornton Wilder from Our Town: "We all know that SOMETHING is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars--everybody knows in their bones that SOMETHING is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings."