Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS YOU by Elizabeth Berg Kirkus Star


by Elizabeth Berg

Pub Date: April 5th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6865-4
Publisher: Random House

The prolific Berg delivers the goods in this perceptive novel about a divorced couple reunited when their daughter goes missing.

Eighteen-year-old Sadie spends most of the year in San Francisco with her mother Irene (neurotic, funny, lonely) and a few weeks a year with her architect father John in their native St. Paul. When Sadie returns home from one of these visits, she convinces Irene to let her go rock climbing with a group of friends—at John’s urging, Irene agrees. However, neither of them know that Sadie is in love and is instead meeting Ron for a romantic weekend. Ron’s late, Sadie’s furious, she gets a lift with a stranger and the worst happens—the stranger kidnaps her, threatens her life and locks her in a windowless shed. When Sadie doesn’t return home, Irene panics and calls John, who hops on the next flight to San Francisco. As soon as they are together, it is clear why they divorced—they infuriate and mistrust one another, they share no common language. By this time, Berg has built their respective back stories: their equally tragic childhoods, their mutual terror of marriage, their miserable attempts at relationships in the 10 years since their divorce. After days of contemplating her impending death, Sadie is rescued by the police (thanks to Ron), and when she finally calls home, she has some news for her parents—she and Ron have eloped. Though grateful Sadie is alive, relief quickly turns to anger and disbelief that their level-headed girl could do something as foolish as get married. All of John and Irene’s dysfunction comes to bear on the issue, and Berg fashions an affecting portrait of divorce, of a couple for whom love was not enough. The seemingly romantic title refers to John and Irene and their too-late realization that they didn’t know how to make love grow, though now there may be a chance for John back in St. Paul with a pretty widow, and a younger man for Irene.

Berg’s masterful portraits and keen insight makes for a memorable read.