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TALK BEFORE SLEEP by Elizabeth Berg


by Elizabeth Berg

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-43299-X
Publisher: Random House

 Berg (Durable Goods, 1993) offers a sappy tale about a woman witnessing the death of her friend from breast cancer. Ruth is a 43-year-old artist whose cancer metastasizes to her brain, her lungs, her kidneys, so that it's only a matter of time, ``weeks to months, depending on what `fails' first.'' Ruth has around-the-clock surveillance from a group of close women friends, the most important of whom is her best friend, Ann. Ann has virtually abandoned her family to share these remaining days with the only person she has ever really been able to get close to, and during this vigil she recounts their history. It turns out that Ann's life looks much like Ruth's when they first meet. Both are married, both have a child, both are unhappy, both want out. But it is Ruth who gathers the courage to leave her cold and unsympathetic husband, get her own apartment, and make a fresh start. And Ann envies her until she stays over at her place one night, discovers a perfectly ordered underwear drawer, and decides that it is ``not an obsessive kind of neatness, but loneliness,'' and goes home. This conclusion seems based on fear--because Ann can't yet make that same leap. But when Ruth, on the next page, reveals that she wants to go back to her horrible husband, the weakness of these women, in a book that purports to be about women offering each other strength, proves too unbelievable. Ultimately, Ruth does die, and when Ann returns to a husband who has the compassion to ask things like ``do you have any idea how long this might take?'' as Ruth gasps for breath in the other room, we're left wondering why Ruth bothers to say ``don't wait anymore...seize the moment.'' Sentimental, disappointing. All talk. (Author tour)