Berg, Elizabeth 1948–
Berg, Elizabeth 1948–
Born December 2, 1948, in St. Paul, MN; daughter of Arthur and Jeanne Hoff; married Howard Berg (a marketing director), March 30, 1974 (divorced); partner's name Bill; children: (from first marriage) Julie, Jennifer. Education: Attended University of Minnesota; St. Mary's College, A.A.S.
Home—Oak Park, IL. Agent—Lisa Bankoff, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019; (for speaking engagements) Arlynn Greenbaum, Authors Unlimited, 31 E. 32nd St., Ste. 300, New York, NY 10016.
Writer. Worked ten years as a registered nurse. Has also worked variously as a waitress, chicken washer, singer, and information clerk. Taught a writing workshop at Radcliffe College.
New England Booksellers Award for fiction, 1997, for body of work; Best Book of the Year, American Library Association, for Durable Goods and Joy School; Recipient of an AMC Cancer Research Center Illuminator award, an award from the New England Booksellers Association, and honors from the Boston Public and Chicago Public Libraries.
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.
The Handmaid and the Carpenter, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Dream When You're Feeling Blue, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
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. Also author of Elizabeth Berg blog.
Author's works have been adapted as television films, including Range of Motion, Lifetime network, 2000, Open House, 2003, and Say When, produced as A Very Married Christmas, 2004; Never Change is being adapted for film; an audiobook version of The Year of Pleasures was recorded in both CD and cassette versions by Brilliance Audio, 2005.
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," wrote 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 contributor stated of Range of Motion: "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," remarked Kate Wilson in an Entertainment Weekly article. 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," attested a Publishers Weekly contributor 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 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 contributor 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 contributor 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 contributor Donna Seaman, who described the story as a "sensitive coming-to-terms-with-death tale." 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. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that Talk before Sleep contains "accurately observed details and honest descriptions … intensely real characterizations, outrageous black humor and graceful prose." The reviewer also noted: "The narrative [is] gripping and immediate."
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 overworked 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 contributor, who stated that "crucial scenes feel highlighted 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. 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 commented in EntertainmentWeekly 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 noted that without any significant financial or relationship challenges, the novel lacks tension. However, a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "an affecting saga of interest to women." Caroline M. Hallsworth, writing in Library Journal, wrote 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."
In We Are All Welcome Here, Berg explores the relationship between an invalid mother and her teenaged daughter in Tupelo, Mississippi, during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Diana Dunn has begun to take over some of the responsibility for her mother, polio victim Paige Dunn, who has been unable to move more than her head since before her daughter was born. Paige has relied on the assistance of Peacie, her black housekeeper, and Peacie's boyfriend LaRue to meet many of her needs. As Diana moves from child to teenager, however, she begins to take over more of her mother's care. "The demands on fourteen-year-old Diana at times feel never-ending," explained Lourdes Orive on the AllReaders.com Web site. "She chafes at her lack of freedom and with the way some of the townspeople treat her and her mother, and dreams of escape." When LaRue decides to help enroll black voters, however, Diana comes to realize the broader contexts of her life. "Diana," declared New York Times Book Review contributor Gregory Cowles, "inevitably learns painful but valuable lessons about love, honor and the real meaning of family."
Berg tackles a unique type of relationship in The Handmaid and the Carpenter, an examination of the relationship of biblical characters Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus. The two teenagers feel an instant attraction to one another and are soon betrothed. Mary's visitation by the angel Gabriel, however, marks a split between the two. "An intelligent, inquisitive, impassioned woman," explained Booklist contributor Carol Haggas, "Mary both finds and is given the strength to endure the unique responsibility bestowed upon her." She accepts the burden of her unexpected—and, from her fiance's point of view, unexplained—pregnancy without question. For Joseph, however, the demands of faith are harder to bear. "What man would accept the story of a virgin pregnancy from his wife?" asked a Kirkus Reviews writer. "Not Joseph." The two are reconciled when Joseph receives his own angelic visitation, but tension between them remains. The conflict reemerges when King Herod issues the order for all his subjects to return to their ancestral homes for a census. As a result, stated a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "Joseph and the near-term Mary set off on their arduous and momentous journey to Bethlehem"—despite Mary's anger at being forced to travel so near the birth of her child and Joseph's desperation at their inability to find housing. Roberta O'Hara wrote on the AllReaders.com Web site: "Berg renders Mary and Joseph real through beautiful language and evocative images. I imagine this is a story that will be read and reread for years to come."
Berg's ten years of experience working as a registered nurse provided her with important background for her 2001 novel, Never Change. "Taking care of patients taught me a lot about human nature, about hope and fear and love and loss and regret and triumph and especially about relationships," the author noted in the biography on her home page. In the novel, Berg tells the story of Myra Lipinski, a visiting nurse for poor people who are terminally ill. When an old high school classmate named Chip Reardon becomes one of her patients, her childhood longings for Chip, who essentially ignored her in high school, resurface. Her feelings eventually lead Myra to the decision to die with Chip, who has terminal brain cancer, rather than spend her life alone. Gerry Benninger, writing on the Romantic Times Book Reviews Web site, called Never Change "a profoundly honest … and rare exploration of death and dying that affirms love in an uncommon … way."
Say When was called "a heartwarming tale focusing on human frailties" by Harriet Klausner, writing on the Best Reviews Web site. The story revolves around Frank Griffin, who thinks his wife is having an affair with a teacher of a night course on auto mechanics. When Frank's wife, Ellen, tells him she wants a divorce so she can be with Peter, Frank refuses, trying to keep the family, which includes eight-year-old Zoe, together. The novel follows the couple as Frank finally realizes that he must listen to his wife. "The pain of self-discovery, as Griffin and Ellen learn the foibles of a failing marriage, seems to exude a realism—especially in its impact on Zoe," wrote Sheri Melnick on the Romantic Times Book Reviews Web site. Lori West wrote on the Curled up with a Good Book Web site: "The book is infused with sweet and seemingly insignificant incidents."
Berg's next novel takes place during World War II. Booklist contributor Joanne Wilkinson referred to Dream When You're Feeling Blue as an "affectionate tribute to the patriotic 1940s and the women of the Greatest Generation." The story focuses on three Irish Catholic sisters named Kitty, Louise, and Tish Heaney and their growth as they learn to sacrifice during World War II. Kitty works at Douglas Aircraft and Trish goes to USO dances to cheer up the troops. Meanwhile Louise waits in fear of losing the man she loves in the war. Andrea Tarr, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author "has done a spot-on job of researching the World War II years; she hardly misses a beat." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Berg "captures changing attitudes toward working women and single mothers in this sentimental celebration of a bygone era."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Blade, June 17, 2007, "Berg Covers Well-trod Ground in WWII Novel."
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; September 15, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 6; May 1, 2006, Carol Haggas, review of The Handmaid and the Carpenter, p. 5; February 1, 2007, Whitney Scott, review of The Handmaid and the Carpenter, p. 66; March 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue, p. 37.
Columbus Dispatch, May 18, 2007, "Young Women's WWII Experience Explored."
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; April 7, 2006, Lynette Rice, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 65; December 15, 2006, Jennifer Armstrong, review of The Handmaid and the Carpenter, p. 91; May 11, 2007, Jennifer Armstrong, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue, p. 79.
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 Pleasures, p. 131; October 1, 2005, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 1041; July 1, 2006, review of The Handmaid and the Carpenter, p. 643; April 15, 2007, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue.
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 Untilthe 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; December 1, 2005, Beth E. Andersen, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 109; October 1, 2006, Denise A. Garofalo, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 111; April 15, 2007, Andrea Tarr, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue, p. 70.
New Yorker, July 12, 1993, review of Durable Goods, p. 103.
New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1993, Regina Weinreich, review of Durable Goods, p. 22; April 30, 2006, Gregory Cowles, "Fiction Chronicle," p. 20.
People, October 23, 1995, Ruth Coughlin, review of Range of Motion, p. 30; April 21, 1997, Kim Hubbard, review of Joy School, p. 35; April 10, 2006, Josh Emmons, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 45.
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; October 24, 2005, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 32; May 8, 2006, review of The Handmaid and the Carpenter, p. 42; March 19, 2007, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue, p. 38.
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.
School Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Molly Connally, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 191.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 21, 1993, Patrick T. Reardon, review of Durable Goods, p. E5; April 15, 2007, review of We Are All Welcome Here, p. 11; April 29, 2007, Alyce Miller, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue, p. 3; June 2, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of Dream When You're Feeling Blue, p. 7.
AllReaders.com,http://www.allreaders.com/ (June 17, 2007), 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, Alicia Cathers, reviews of What We Keep and Talk before Sleep, Terry Miller Shanding, review of The Art of Mending, Sara Rachel Egelman, review of Say When, Lordes Orive, review of We Are All Welcome Here, Jana Siciliano, review of Open House, Kiril Stefan Alexandrov, review of Until the Real Thing Comes Along, Dana H. Schwartz, review of What We Keep, Judith Handschuh, review of Joy School, and Roberta O'Hara, reviews of The Handmaid and the Carpenter and The Year of Pleasures.
Art of the Word,http://www.modestyarbor.com/ (June 17, 2007), Craig McDonald, "Elizabeth Berg: True to Form," author interview.
Best Reviews,http://thebestreviews.com/ (May 19, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Say When.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 21, 1997), interview with Elizabeth Berg; (August 18, 2000), interview with Elizabeth Berg.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (January 4, 2008), Lori West, review of Say When.
Elizabeth Berg Home Page,http://www.elizabeth-berg.net (January 4, 2008).
Fantastic Fiction,http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (January 4, 2007), review of The Pull of the Moon.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (January 4, 2008), information on author's film work.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (January 4, 2008), brief profile of author.
Romantic Times Book Reviews,http://www.romantictimes.com/ (January 4, 2008), Gerry Benninger, review of Never Change; Sheri Melnick, review of Say When.
WebdelSol.com,http://www.webdelsol.com/ (August 26, 2005), Barbara Shoup, interview with Elizabeth Berg.