In this rich and deeply satisfying novel by the beloved author of The Art of Mending, and Open House, a resilient woman embarks upon an unforgettable journey of adventure, self-discovery, and renewal. Betta Nolan moves to a small town after the death of her husband to try to begin anew. Pursuing a dream of a different kind of life, she is determined to find pleasure in her simply daily routines. Among those who help her in both expected and unexpected ways are the ten-year-old boy next door, three wild women friends from her college days, a twenty-year-old who is struggling to find his place in the world, and a handsome man who is ready for love.
The familiar protagonist of Berg's 13th novel (after The Art of Mending) is a Boston widow of several months, 55-year-old Betta Nolan, who fulfills her dying husband's dream of moving out to the Midwest and starting a new life. "It will give me peace to know that what you will do is exactly what we talked about," says John commandingly before dying of liver cancer; Betta, an author of children's books, sells their Beacon Hill brownstone and takes off, buying an oversized Victorian in the small town of Stewart, Ill., 49 miles from Chicago. Lonely, she finds herself tracking down three former college roommates from the late 1960s, Lorraine, Maddy and Susanna, whom she ditched once she met John. The women reappear one by one and help give her the courage to open a shop called What a Woman Wants (it'll sell "all different stuff that women loved. Beautiful things, but unusual too. Like antique birdcages with orchids growing in them"). Meanwhile, she begins to make friends in town, notably with attractive young handyman Matthew and natty oldster Tom Bartlett. Berg is a pro at putting together an affecting saga of interest to women of a certain age, yet here she seems to be writing in her sleep. There is little effort at cohesion-rather, a kind of serendipitous plot that goes every which way and a series of tentative, aborted romances. The impression readers will be left with is of a woman endlessly nurturing and rarely satisfied. Agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM. 12-city author tour. (Apr. 12) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 04, 2005
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Excerpt from The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
I had been right to want to drive to the Midwest, taking only the back roads. Every time my husband, John, and I had taken a trip more than a few miles away, we'd flown, and had endured the increasingly irritating airport protocols. I'd finally begun to wear what amounted to pajamas so that I wouldn't have to all but strip before security guards who seemed either worrisomely bored or, equally worrisome, inflated with a mirthful self-importance. It was hard to believe that air travel had ever been considered glamorous, when now what most people felt was a seesawing between anxiety and exasperation. "Well, folks, looks like our time has been pushed back again," the captain would say, and everyone would shake their heads and snap their newspapers and mutter to their neighbor. And if there was unexpected turbulence, a quivering silence fell.
Now, on this road trip, my mind seemed to uncrinkle, to breathe, to present to itself a cure for a disease it had not, until now, known it had. Rather than the back of an airline seat or endless, identical rest stops on the interstate, I saw farmhouses in the middle of protective stands of trees, silos reaching for the sky, barns faded to the soft red of tomato soup. The weather everywhere stayed stubbornly warm, and people seemed edgily grateful"what could this mean, sixty-degree weather in November" I drove through one small town where old people sat on rockers on front porches and kids tore around corners on bikes and young mothers, jackets tied around their waists, proudly pushed babies in strollers.
I passed white wooden churches, red brick schools, stores with names familiar only to the locals, and movie theaters offering a single choice. I saw cats stationed at living room windows, horses switching tails against clouds of gnats, cows in pastures grouped together like gossips. These scenes seemed imbued with a beauty richer than normal; they seemed so perfect as to have been staged. I felt as though I were driving through a museum full of pastoral bas-reliefs, and I took in the details that way, with wonder and appreciation. That was the tolerable part of my new vulnerability, the positive side of feeling my heart had migrated out of my body to hang on my chest like a necklace.
There was an infinite variety of trees, and I felt ashamed to know the names of so few of them. John and I used to talk about how the current phase of the moon as well as the names of trees and flowers and birds"at least the local ones!"should be front and center in people's brains; maybe such a connection to nature would help to make us more civilized. But I was as guilty as anyone; the only tree I knew beyond pines and willows and birches was the black locust, and that was because I liked the way John had described the blossoms' scent: like grape lollipops. I passed massive-trunked trees standing powerful and alone, and imagined how in summer their leafy canopy would provide a gigantic circle of shade. I passed a group of reedy saplings bending like ballerinas in the wind. Willow trees dipped their bare branches into pond water like girls testing the temperature with their toes.
I felt a low and distinct kind of relaxation. Time became real. Nature became real: the woods, the sky, the lakes, the high bluffs and low valleys, the acres of spent fields, the muddy riverbanks. Live photos flashed before me: Here, a construction worker eating a sandwich, one foot up on the bumper of his truck. Here, a woman in curlers loading groceries into her car. Here, a child glimpsed through a kitchen window, standing on a stool to reach into a cupboard; there, a beauty operator giving an old lady a perm.