Berg, Elizabeth 1948-
BERG, Elizabeth 1948-
PERSONAL: Born December 2, 1948; daughter of Arthur and Jeanne Hoff; married Howard Berg (a marketing director), March 30, 1974 (divorced); children: Julie, Jennifer. Education: Attended University of Minnesota; St. Mary's College, A.A.S.
ADDRESSES: Home—Chicago, IL. Agent—Lisa Bankoff, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer. Has worked variously as a waitress, chicken washer, singer, information clerk, and registered nurse. Taught a writing workshop at Radcliffe College.
Durable Goods, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Talk before Sleep, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Range of Motion, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
The Pull of the Moon, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.
Joy School (sequel to Durable Goods), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
What We Keep, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Until the Real Thing Comes Along, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Open House, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
Never Change, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Say When, Atria (New York, NY), 2003.
The Art of Mending, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
The Year of Pleasures, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
We Are All Welcome Here, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Family Traditions: Celebrations for Holidays and Everyday (nonfiction), Reader's Digest (Pleasantville, NY), 1992.
Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Ordinary Life (short stories), Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, New York Times Magazine, Parents, Redbook, and Woman's Day.
ADAPTATIONS: Range of Motion was made into an original movie of the same title for Lifetime network, 2000; an audiobook version of The Year of Pleasures was recorded in both CD and cassette versions by Brilliance Audio, 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Former-nurse-turned-author Elizabeth Berg "specializes in plots of a female confronting a life transition," according to Gilbert Taylor in a Booklist review of the author's fifth novel, Joy School. "Berg always takes on the big issues: living, loving and loss," summarized Ruth Coughlin in People. "Berg's impeccable prose gives voice to that element in our psyche that enables us to cope with the impossible," further commented Donna Seaman in her Booklist assessment of Range of Motion.
Critics have often made sweeping, positive assessments of Berg's work. One Publishers Weekly critic assessment of Range of Motion stated, "Once again, Berg … has orchestrated the voices of women with no-holds-barred honesty." "Berg's writing is … measured, delicate, and impossible to walk away from until [its] … completion," exclaimed Kate Wilson in an Entertainment Weekly. Berg manages "to deliver a story that tugs at the heartstrings while largely avoiding canned sentiment," added Kim Hubbard in a People review of Joy School. The author characteristically "refreshes a well-worn plot with knowing domestic detail, an understanding of familiar—sometimes conflicting—female emotions and an infectious sentimental optimism. Neither deep nor complex," attested a Publishers Weekly critic about Berg's eighth novel, Open House, the story of a woman finding life after her husband leaves their twenty-year marriage.
Berg's debut as a novelist came with the publication of Durable Goods. This 1993 release recounts the trials and tribulations of Katie, a Texas adolescent who expects to relocate, as in the past, whenever her father's army career dictates. With her mother dead from cancer, Katie shares quarters with her sister and an abusive father. She has great "emotional durability," as one Publishers Weekly contributor stated, shows potential as a poet, and longs to leave home. Similarly, Patrick T. Reardon, writing in the Chicago Tribune Books, described Katie as "strong enough, solid enough, flexible enough to make it through the rough handling of life—and still remain a 12-year-old like any other." Berg's rendering of Katie's plight in Durable Goods is executed with "sensitivity rather than sentimentality," judged Reardon. A Publishers Weekly critic called the novel an "understated and promising fiction debut." "Hope and sorrow mingle at the close of this finely observed, compassionate book," praised a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Three books and four years later, Berg released a sequel to Durable Goods titled Joy School. The 1997 publication follows Katie through her family's move to Missouri and into her first romantic fantasies and relationship. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the work a "painfully accurate tale of first love in the days of princess phones and circle pins." "If books were food," asserted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "then Joy School might be a Twinkie…. A pleasant between-meals snack of the kids-are-great genre: teary, funny, Hallmarkian wise, its true space waiting among the [young adults.]"
Berg's second novel, Talk before Sleep, was declared "another perfectly constructed and tender novel" by Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman, who described the story as a "sensitive coming-to-terms-with-death tale." In stark contrast, a Kirkus Reviews critic considered Talk before Sleep "a sappy tale" that is "sentimental, disappointing." The story tells of struggles with marriage and family, life, and death. Ann, the narrator, is a nurse who withdraws from her daily life to care for her best friend, Ruth, an artist dying of cancer. Ruth, like Ann, has a child and is unhappily married. Unlike Ann, though, she confronts her fear and leaves her husband—a decision Ann first envies. "The weakness of these women, in a book that purports to be about women offering each other strength, proves too unbelievable," maintained the Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt differently, saying Talk before Sleep contains "accurately observed details and honest descriptions … intensely real characterizations, outrageous black humor and graceful prose." "The narrative [is] gripping and immediate," praised the Publishers Weekly reviewer.
In What We Keep Berg addresses mother-daughter relations between a pair that have not seen each other in thirty-five years. "The plot fails to seem plausible or compelling," wrote a Kirkus Reviews writer, calling What We Keep "an unremarkable visit to that over-worked territory where mothers and daughters visit to blame and explain." "Berg's customary skill in rendering domestic details is intact, but the story seems stitched together," judged a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who stated that "crucial scenes feel high-lighted rather than fleshed out." In contrast, Caroline M. Hallsworth's Library Journal review applauded Berg as an author who "excels at writing novels about the close personal relationships between women."
Berg tackles "the now familiar girl-loves-gay-guy plot" with Until the Real Thing Comes Along, remarked Nancy Pearl in Booklist. Patty loves Ethan, her childhood sweetheart who broke their engagement and announced that he was gay. They remain friends, but Patty still hopes for a family life with Ethan. He agrees to father her child. Patty wonders if her family will accept her choice to be a single mother and thinks about the possibility of more sexual relations with Ethan. Comparing the 1999 novel with Talk before Sleep, Library Journal contributor Beth Gibbs described Until the Real Thing Comes Along as "light and fluffy, unlike her amazingly powerful earlier work." A Publishers Weekly writer, however, asserted that Until the Real Thing Comes Along is a "sparkling and witty … poignant and clever tale" with a "zestful combination of commercial and literary appeal."
Complicated parent-child relationships are the subject of Berg's 2004 novel, The Art of Mending. Returning home for a family reunion, three siblings—Laura, Steve, and Caroline—confront difficult issues about their past. While Laura and Steve thought they had enjoyed reasonably happy childhoods, Caroline has been undergoing therapy and is considering divorcing her husband, problems she says stem from being abused by their mother. When she finally reveals this truth to her siblings, Laura and Steve think that this is just more whining from their sister, who has always seemed to be a malcontent and a little weird. As the story progresses, however, they learn the truth about their mother, who did, in fact, abuse Caroline and was also, in turn, abused by her own mother. The story is told from Laura's viewpoint, which some critics felt made it more difficult to understand Caroline's character and dilemma. Furthermore, Booklist contributor Joanne Wilkinson wrote, "Although Berg proffers a number of reasons for the mother's singular treatment of Caroline, none of them is totally convincing." A Publishers Weekly critic also noticed "a few gender stereotypes" in the novel, but praised Berg for her "luminous and buoyant" prose and "penetrating" insights. Tina Jordan concluded in Entertainment Weekly that The Art of Mending is "not Berg's best effort," but a "solid little novel" nevertheless.
Another tale of healing can be found in Berg's The Year of Pleasures. Here, a financially well-off widow named Betta Nolan sells her Massachusetts home and uproots herself to Stewart, Illinois, where she buys a Victorian house and opens a store called What a Woman Wants. Nolan, who enjoyed a happy marriage, had been so focused on her husband that she cut out many of the people in her life. Now alone, she learns the pleasures of welcoming friends and neighbors into her life again. Critics found Betta's story pleasant enough, but that without any significant financial or relationship challenges, the novel lacks tension. Despite the impression that the author "seems to be writing in her sleep," as one Publishers Weekly reviewer put it, several critics praised The Year of Pleasures. Even the Publishers Weekly contributor called it "an affecting saga of interest to women," and Caroline M. Hallsworth, writing in Library Journal, concluded that "this is a novel to read, treasure, and share."
One of the other messages in The Year of Pleasures is the importance of celebrating the little things in life. Indeed, this is a theme in many of Berg's novels, and she explained why this is so in an online interview with Barbara Shoup on the WebdelSol.com Web site: "A lesson I learned from being a nurse is how important seemingly ordinary life is, which of course is not ordinary at all, and how much is held in the smallest of things, the cup you use for breakfast every morning, the places—like this—where you go that anchor the specific. The anchors people have in their lives." Another anchor in life, according to Berg, is our personal relationships, which is why these are so central in her novels as well. As Berg said in her interview, "These are such devastating, uncertain times that I don't think any of us quite know where we are anymore and what's going to happen. People in New York are afraid to live by the river now because of scuba terrorists! Our whole world is so threatened, and I feel like now, more than ever, it's so important that people learn to get along in their relationships: their husbands and wives, their innermost family members and on beyond that."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Talk before Sleep, p. 1514; August, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Range of Motion, p. 1928; April 1, 1996, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Pull of the Moon, p. 1342; March 1, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of Joy School, p. 1108; May 15, 1998, Nancy Pearl, review of What We Keep, p. 1593; June 1, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, p. 1770; July, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Until the Real Thing Comes Along, p. 1920; March 1, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Art of Mending, p. 1100; September 1, 2004, Joyce Saricks, review of The Art of Mending, p. 142; March 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, "Top 10 Women's Fiction," review of The Art of Mending, p. 1137.
Entertainment Weekly, September 15, 1995, Kate Wilson, review of Range of Motion, p. 100; June 7, 1996, Suzanne Ruta, review of The Pull of the Moon, p. 55; April 16, 2004, Tina Jordan, review of The Art of Mending, p. 82.
Hollywood Reporter, December 4, 2000, Marilyn Moss, "Range of Motion," p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1993, review of Durable Goods; March 1, 1994, review of Talk before Sleep; March 1, 1996, review of The Pull of the Moon; February 1, 1997, review of Joy School; April 15, 1998, review of What We Keep; March 15, 2004, review of The Art of Mending, p. 236; February 1, 2005, review of The Year of Pleasure, p. 131.
Kliatt, November, 2003, Janice Bees, review of Ordinary Life, p. 26; September, 2004, Sunnie Grant, review of The Art of Mending, p. 54.
Library Journal, November 15, 1998, Joyce Kessel, review of Range of Motion, p. 111; May 1, 1998, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of What We Keep, p. 135; May 15, 1999, Beth Gibbs, review of Until the Real Thing Comes Along, p. 123; April 15, 2004, Reba Leiding, review of The Art of Mending, p. 122; December 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Year of Pleasures, p. 86; March 1, 2005, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of The Year of Pleasures, p. 74.
New Yorker, July 12, 1993, p. 103.
New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1993, p. 22.
People, October 23, 1995, Ruth Coughlin, review of Range of Motion, p. 30; April 21, 1997, Kim Hubbard, review of Joy School, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1993, review of Durable Goods, p. 81; February 21, 1994, review of Talk Before Sleep, p. 232; July 3, 1995, review of Range of Motion, p. 49; February 26, 1996, review of The Pull of the Moon, p. 82; February 10, 1997, review of Joy School, p. 66; April 6, 1998, review of What We Keep, p. 59; May 24, 1999, review of Until the Real Thing Comes Along, p. 62; May 22, 2000, review of Open House, p. 70; March 22, 2004, review of The Art of Mending, p. 62; February 21, 2005, review of The Year of Pleasures, p. 154.
Sarasota Herald Tribune (Sarasota, FL), April 24, 2005, "Joy in Everyday Living; Elizabeth Berg's New Best Seller Focuses on the Small Things that Help a Woman through Her First Year of Widowhood," p. E4.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 21, 1993, Patrick T. Reardon, review of Durable Goods, p. E5.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com (August 26, 2005), Jody T. Bixby, reviews of Durable Goods, The Pull of the Moon, and Say When, Harriet Klausner, reviews of The Art of Mending, True to Form, and Never Change, Judy Delaney, review of Joy School, Linda Napikoski, review of Talk before Sleep, and Alicia Cathers, reviews of What We Keep and Talk before Sleep.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/. (April 21, 1997), interview with Elizabeth Berg; (August 18, 2000), interview with Elizabeth Berg.
WebdelSol.com, http://www.webdelsol.com/. (August 26, 2005), Barbara Shoup, interview with Elizabeth Berg.;