Title: The Year of Pleasures
Author: Elizabeth Berg
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: I had been right to want to drive to the Midwest, taking only the back roads.
How have I never read Elizabeth Berg before? Her name has been on my radar for some time, but The Year of Pleasures is the first of her books that I’ve read. It most certainly will not be the last.
Betta Nolan is a new widow. Her husband, John, has died of cancer, and she decides to honor the plans that they had made to drive into the Midwest, find a small town, and buy a house. Betta does all of those things, looking for a new start and a place to mourn the loss of her husband and her marriage. As Betta traverses the landscape of a new town and fresh grief, she discovers the little pleasures that happen every day, even while her heart is hurting. She learns that reaching out to others – the neighbor boy, a young college student, a crotchety old lady – can help start the process of healing, and that the old friends she had let go because of the insular nature of her marriage are still there and still necessary.
I enjoyed the experience of reading this book so much that for a day after finishing, I kept wanting to pick it up and read some more. Then I remembered I’d already finished, and I was sad. Not many books make me feel like that. The plot was simple, there weren’t any surprises, and yet I’d find myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs simply to savor the beauty of them. Here are a couple that I don’t want to forget:
Some mornings when I read the newspaper, I wanted to weep or pound my fists on the table in frustration. Some mornings I actually did one or the other. But museums offered up the other side of humanity: the glory and the grace….The air around me was cool and quiet and to my mind fragrant – a mix of stone and paper and something not quite incense but close to it. I felt as though I were in a spontaneously created church, truer for its being non-denominational.
Outside, it had begun to snow: tiny flakes that made it look like the earth was being salted. Tomorrow I would need to buy a new shovel – the one John had used was too heavy for me. He’d appreciated hard manual labor, saying he liked to do work that was outside his head, for a change. I liked reading a good novel while he cleared the walks, popping up now and then to look out the window and see how he was progressing. That was my contribution. Of course, I had reciprocated – bringing him dinner on a tray when the Sox were playing an important game. Sewing on buttons for him. Finding things he insisted weren’t there when they were actually right before him. I wasn’t sure Lorraine and others like her – ones who were so despairing of marriage, ones who were so sure their expectations could never be met – understood that it was these small moments of caretaking that meant the most, that forged the real relationship. The way one pulled the blankets over the sleeping other, the way one prepared a snack for oneself but made enough to share. Such moments made for the team of two, which made for one’s sword and shield.