Berg’s sequel to The Story of Arthur Truluv (2017) checks in with Arthur’s friends, neighbors, and beneficiaries.
When the saintly Arthur Moses, dubbed “Truluv” by his de facto ward, Maddy, dies, he leaves behind a legacy of kindness. Maddy inherited Arthur’s Mason, Missouri, home, now occupied rent-free by Lucille, his elderly former neighbor. Lucille is the central figure of this installment, although, judging from her dream visitations by the angel of death, it won’t be long before she follows Arthur and her own late beloved, Frank, into the afterlife. For the nonce, however, Lucille’s baking talent has led to a popular class hosted in her kitchen, and her cakes are hotly sought after by Polly’s Henhouse, a local diner. The Henhouse is the site of one major subplot: Iris, a well-off resale maven from Boston, notices that Monica, a waitress, and Tiny, a regular, appear to have a crush on each other but are each too shy to act. Iris and Lucille share a longing for the children each, for different reasons, never had. Iris’ decision was compelled by her ex-husband, Ed, now remarried—with child!—whence her flight to a small town. Seeking distraction, Iris answers Lucille’s call for an assistant. The deepest dives are into Lucille’s sugar- and fat-laden creations—no diabetes fears here. Link, short for Lincoln, Lucille’s neighbor, is raised by vegetarians and must be disabused of such scruples by Lucille, who babysits for him while his mother, Abby, receives treatment for leukemia. We long for more substance as Berg touches on, but does not really engage, topics like aging, mortality, and America’s obsession with appearance. She never acknowledges the contradictions—or the opportunities—presented by Iris’ strange compulsion to forgive Ed, Lucille’s devil-may-care attitude toward buttercream, the weight issues Tiny and Monica share, and the fact that the person with the healthiest diet gets cancer. In this small town, truisms prevail over truth every time.
Psychological realism sacrificed on the altar of niceness.