Widow discovers an $850,000 crack in her nest egg in Berg’s latest (The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, 2008, etc.).
Helen, a bestselling author living in Chicago, is experiencing writer’s block for the first time in her life. And no wonder: Her husband Dan died of a heart attack at the breakfast table. Her elderly father has cancer. Phobic about money matters, she’s been dodging increasingly frantic calls from her accountant, Steve, and has toyed with taking holiday employment at Anthropologie, even going so far as to interview. A library program director is hounding her to teach a writer’s workshop. Toxic fan mail from wannabe writer Margot attacks Helen’s body of work as “insipid,” “mawkish” and an insult to literature. When Steve finally reaches Helen it’s to ask if she has any idea what her husband did with the 850 large he withdrew from the couple’s retirement account before his death. Helen had preferred to let Dan handle all the finances, but she had no reason not to trust him. After some promising setups (At 59, would Helen be Anthropologie’s oldest cashier? Was squeaky-clean Dan leading a double life?) Berg seems to fall back on her default worldview: Her characters are simply too nice, too timid or both, to get themselves into any interesting messes. Helen sabotages the job interview, and she learns early on (from well-preserved hunky architect Tom) that Dan siphoned off the funds to surprise Helen with the California retirement house of her dreams. The writing class adds the most spice—Helen’s arch-rival, a catty novelist, is a co-instructor, and arch-rival-in training Margot brings a masterpiece to the workshop. Otherwise, stock minor players—Helen’s skeptical daughter, Tessa, her wise-cracking best girlfriend, Midge, and Tom, a hot romantic prospect (and he’s handy too!)—and a plot that ducks every conflict render this outing listless.
Neither insipid nor mawkish but definitely phoned-in.