Lately the books coming home from the library have been less than stellar. I’ll see their authors interviewed on TV "mystery writer" or radio "author-interview" shows and they’ll seem interesting, or friends may recommend titles, and I'll order the books in.
To my surprise, even when they are well written they are still not engaging. You might think mysteries could never be that dull, but yes, they can. There are some mystery novels where things happen so slowly — if ever — that I lose interest in the story altogether. I don't care what happens to the characters, and return the book to the library, unfinished.
I like reading memoirs, but have been having the same problem with them. They are not holding my attention. They are not taking me out of my world and into theirs.
Yesterday afternoon called for a break from work in the newsroom and I strolled over to the library to try again. Ignoring the mystery section and passing quickly over the biographies, I instead browsed through the shelf with books whose authors' surnames start with B and signed out three hardcover novels.
Talk before Sleep, by Elizabeth Berg, was published 20 years ago, and is about friendship between women, one of whom is dying from breast cancer that has metastasized.
Not only does the book address the feelings of helplessness and grief when a woman you love is dying, but it evokes the way your own everyday life goes into limbo as you focus on this huge event — watching someone suffer a death by degrees. There is some examination of the characters’ marriages and how they cope with disappointment and anger in various ways. But mostly it is about how women are so comfortable and caring with each other when they are really needed.
I started reading the book in the evening after getting into bed, and only put it down when my eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. Ding! Points for Elizabeth Berg and Talk before Sleep. The novel articulates many of the emotions one navigates during times of crisis and loss, including the examination of how one has been living and whether new actions and change are required. I'd recommend it if you have a loved one who is ill or has died.
After Mom passed away, I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir about what she went through after her husband's death from cardiac arrest. There was little in it that I could relate to, possibly because Didion was dealing with the sudden death of an intimate daily-life partner while I had time to say goodbye to Mom, take care of her, and build our mother-daughter relationship into something deeply profound. Perhaps mine and Didion's are two very different experiences; Didion's did not help me understand mine. But Talk before Sleep feels, in some ways, as if I could have written it myself.