Oprah’s Book Clubber Berg (Open House, 2000, etc.) offers 15 stories deftly detailing those defining moments in ordinary women’s lives when fresh insights help explain their discontents.
Easily accessible, like photos in a family album, these tales record the specific and offer conventional breakthroughs that console. A woman suffering a recurrence of cancer who left her husband because she wanted to be alone now realizes she needs him (“Departure From Normal”). A visiting nurse who takes care of the dying regrets that she refused a patient’s invitation to make love, because she now understands that “there are exquisite acts of tenderness lying latent in all of us, waiting only for our permission to come into being” (“Sweet Refuge”). A childhood attempt at matchmaking includes the lesson that all of us are a mixture of things and that “the trick was to focus on the better parts” (“The Matchmaker”). In the poignant recollections of a beautiful but mentally ill mother, we see that she nevertheless has given her daughter enduring gifts of wisdom (“What Stays”). A married woman, sharing treasured childhood memories with a lover, ponders ending her unsatisfactory marriage (“Things We Used to Believe”). “The Party,” deliciously bawdy and frank, features a group of married women who start talking about men, their genitalia, and sex, until their husbands come to claim them. In the title story, the most original here, 79-year-old Mavis locks herself in the bathroom with a supply of food, reading matter, and enough pillows and blankets to making sleeping in the bath comfortable, telling her bewildered husband that she’s “on retreat.” With the uninterrupted time she craves, she is able to review her life, her marriage, and her family, emerging finally at peace with the realization that she had “done everything right.”
Readable and comfortably undemanding. Fans will enjoy.