SAY WHEN by Elizabeth Berg


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Breaking up is hard to do, and breaking up with Santa almost impossible.

Frank Griffin has an inkling that his wife Ellen is fooling around with Peter, her basic auto mechanics course instructor. After ten years of marriage and the birth of their adorably precocious daughter Zoe, Ellen tells Frank she wants a divorce. She explains, coolly, that she never “believed in romantic love” until the ponytail-sporting mechanic came along and dazzled her. She asks Frank to move out, but he won’t budge. Problem is, he still loves her. They reluctantly agree to live as roommates, alternating nights out. In an effort to stifle the probing questions of her inquisitive eight-year-old, Ellen tells Zoe she’s taking a quilting class that often runs implausibly late. Frank throws out his wedding ring and tries directing his energies toward becoming a part-time mall Santa. More from spite than anything else, he begins dating the Christmas coordinator, Donna, a blond divorcée who is incredibly understanding of his needs. Most of the time, though, Frank sits around inventing nicknames for Peter (Oil Pan King, Mr. Points and Plugs), wallowing in the muck of his own unrequited desire for Ellen, and having exhaustive, watered-down-feminism chats with Zoe. Fed up with the fights and relentless sarcasm, Ellen decides to get her own apartment. What follows are fruitless yearnings, the immeasurable comfort of good ice-cream, overtly metaphorical dreams, bouts of self-help dating, and the limited strivings of Frank to understand where it all went wrong. The story, for all its nuances, hinges on just two questions: Will Ellen’s relationship with Peter last? Can Frank’s cunning use of passive aggression and belittling jabs lure Ellen home again? The answers arrive just in time for Christmas.

Contrived and sentimental, though Berg (True to Form, 2002, etc.) writes neatly packed and fluid prose.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7434-1136-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2003


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