Thursday, June 3, 2010

Read 25 books: The Year of Pleasures

Finished a book last night, finally! It's been a while since I made it through one.

 It was The Year of Pleasures, by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg. She's sort of a guilty pleasure author, although I don't feel it's quite fair to her to attach that label to her. She writes about women, mostly in their 40s or 50s, living ordinary lives, stumbling through relationships or common life happenings. Births, deaths, marriages, divorce. In this book, the protagonist, Betta, is 55 and newly widowed. Her husband was her life, a fact that sort of irked me. She had worked as a children's book writer, a fact that is mentioned a few times but never expounded on, never something that seems important to Betta. That struck me as off. Writers, even when they're not writing, typically think about writing, right? But she doesn't put pen to paper once during the book.

Instead, what she does is sell her brownstone in Boston for an obnoxious sum and moves to the Midwest, to a town she has never heard. This intrigued me. My husband and I used to have these grand plans in college to move to a place called Carefree, Arizona. We talked about it for months as if we were actually going to do it. It felt very romantic and adventurous, our plans to move to a city in the dessert based solely on its quirky name. But we never did do it. We graduated, we scored great internships, and our lives began in a much more realistic, down-to-earth kind of way. So in a sense, I appreciated Berg's plot because it held that sense of excitement that we rarely experience in "real life." But it also felt, of course, a little unreal. Not the idea, but the execution. Things worked out a little too perfectly, and sometimes nonsensically. She finds the perfect house in the perfect town and buys it with cash. She quickly meets characters she connects with, including with little trouble, finding with her old collage roommates. In "real life," these woman likely would have grown apart. Not in the book. Her three best friends are largely the same as who they were back then, and they're still best friends, and they're somewhat suspended in time, just waiting for Betta to call.

The problem is that some of these people and relationships are never fleshed out. It feels a little bit like Berg doesn't know where she's going or what the point is. Why is the 9-year-old kid from next door in her life? What's his purpose in the story? What does he teach Betta? I seriously can't answer that. Or the two 20-year-old men she befriends? They have some nice moments together, but if they fulfill some part in Betta's life or move her forward in her grief, I can't really say. Even among the best friends, only one is crystallized. Another has only one character-enhancing scene with Betta; the last is barely more than a name taking up space. There is also this ongoing thread of found scraps of paper from her deceased husband, each containing a single word or phrase. And these phrases make no sense to Betta. Or to me, the reader. And if there is ever a revelation about why he wrote down these nonsense words for Betta to find, what he hoped to convey through them, or what they actually mean, it is lost on me, never really explained. That was disappointing.

I'm being pretty harsh and the truth is, while the book left me a little stumped at the end, trying to piece together the holes and make sense of the way things worked in the world Berg created, I did enjoy reading it. Berg is pretty sentimental about very small things -- delicious food, the textiles in her character's home, the fleeting feelings and memories that are sparked in our minds. I don't mind this sentimentality. It seems to me very much the experience of being a woman. So these writing moments kept me going.

But in the end, it just didn't come together like most of her books. There were too many glaring holes in the end, too many relationships and situations that I look back at now and think, why did you take us through that if it didn't lead to any advancement in a character's life? It's sort of stumping.

I'll read Berg again, though. And now I must pick up something else! I'm pretty far behind in my goal of reading 25 books. Time to play catch up.


  1. I have been looking for a intriguing read. This sounds like the one. Thanks for sharing! Have a great day!

  2. Oh my goodness, you have an entire blog about owls! I'm in love!

    Thanks for stopping by! If you haven't read anything by Berg, she's good. This might not be her best, but I really do like her.

  3. I love reading books, I will check this one on the bookstore. Thanks for sharing.

    "A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take."
    -- Cardinal Mermillod
    Simple Life Living


Related Posts with Thumbnails