Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Year of Pleasures

For Christmas my sister in law and her husband gave me a big box of novels. Last week I dug around in there and picked out The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg, which I finished last night. If memory serves, Berg is rather prolific and has written tons of books that I always pick up at the bookstore and then put down after seeing that they all seem to feature women in their 50s.

But this time the book was free, had a nice cover and for whatever reason, the story appealed. The Year of Pleasures tells the story of Betta Nolan, who is in her mid 50’s and who’s husband recently died from cancer. They lived in Boston together and led a rather insular life with no real friends. After his death, she follows through on a promise she made her dying husband and sells their house, drives West and moves to a small town to start over. She ends up in a small town outside Chicago, reconnects with some old college friends and also makes new friends in the town. I felt like the title was a bit of a misnomer, since the book is essentially the story of her grieving with a little bit about pleasures.

I enjoyed the book. The writing was solid but the plot left a tiny bit to be desired for me. The theme of her grieving was well done, but the character development for all the supporting characters and their story lines felt a little unfinished to me. She does a good job introducing all these new characters (Betta’s old friends, an adorable 10 year old neighbor, a 20 year old guy and his Brazilian roommate…) and I was interested in their stories. Then all of a sudden it felt like the book was over without wrapping up any of it. Also? It bugged me a little that she had no friends. Rather than irritation, I should probably feel sympathy, but I don’t really. I feel like there are those couples out there that don’t make an effort to maintain outside friendships and I have a really difficult time relating to these people. That said, I’d probably read another of Elizabeth Berg’s books. Can anyone recommend one I’d maybe like?

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

Thanks for this. I was a big fan for Elizabeth Berg in the past and read many of her books. You are correct in that many, if not most, of her books revolve around characters in their 50s. I cannot remember specific titles of her books but I recall enjoying two that were both about a young girl who I believe was named Katie. There was also one about a woman who has a baby with her gay friend. And one called Open House that I think I liked.

Have you read any of Anita Shreve? I really like here, though the last book I ready by her was somewhat awful (Wedding in December). I have loved SeaGlass and Body Surfing though. You might enjoy them as well.