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by Elizabeth Berg

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9314-1
Publisher: Random House

A motivational speaker struggles to follow her own advice after a close friend dies.

Cecilia, successful self-help author and woman of a certain age—which she declines, on principle, to disclose—travels the nation inspiring others to be their best selves. However, since her best friend Penny died after a short illness, Cecilia herself is now adrift. Penny, her next-door neighbor in Minneapolis, had tried to persuade Cecilia to take a vacation and go globe-trotting with her. But Cecilia procrastinated, and now it is too late. Consulting a variety of fortunetelling devices, she sells her home—she has never married—and moves in with three other women, who are also at loose ends. The witty repartee among the four and their interactions with their pet, an aging yellow lab named Riley, are the most enjoyable aspects of this otherwise predictable pastiche of time-worn truisms on loss and aging. The four (and Riley) soon leave domestic routine to traverse the heartland in search of lost opportunities. Cecilia intends to reconnect with globe-trotting heartthrob Dennis, with whom she lost touch after college. Her traveling companions, advice columnist Renie, family physician Lise and chef Joni, are seeking, respectively, a lost daughter, an ex-husband and culinary inspiration. (Riley is just hoping for lots of road-food leftovers.) The bromidic plot leaves no doubt as to the outcome for all four. Berg marshals sentimental subplots in support of her inspirational thesis: The wry voice of the departed Penny reminds Cecilia that time’s winged chariot is hovering just overhead, the fiancee of a dying man in a hospice where Cecilia volunteers (that was Penny’s deathbed wish) offers him a last hope, and Cecilia’s dotty mother, an assisted living resident, is bent on getting married. However, the characterization, particularly of Cecilia, is too sketchy: A deeper, more fully articulated back story might have lent needed depth to our understanding of how Cecilia arrived at this juncture in her life.

Berg fails to play to her strengths here.