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Review: "Open House," by Elizabeth Berg


For several years, perhaps it was about ten ago, I enjoyed Berg's books immensely. Set in typical modern America they focused on normal people, doing relatively normal things, and the vagaries of life and emotions that we all feel. There was a "real-ness" to both her voice and the plots that felt as if these experiences were ours, or just around the corner waiting for us. This opening accolade to Berg is meant to give her credit for the many enjoyable hours in the past that I spent with her characters, however flawed and human. Unfortunately, this book was vacuous, formulaic and very disappointing. Perhaps Berg has a book contract and she simply mailed this one in. There was very little to commend in this flimsy, remote and awkward piece. The main character was so much a caricature that despite her sometimes honest feelings and humorous inner dialogue the story was preposterous and most of the characters so thinly drawn that I could predict their every move. I hoped for some uncomfortable and truly real reactions by the characters but I got formulaic resolutions that resulted in almost everyone able to walk off into the sunset holding hands. Her husband? Stupid and shallow. Her over-sized friend King? supportive to a fault and then becomes her lover...oh yes...he does happen to lose 40 pounds and become much more attractive. Her son? Are 11 year olds just this unredeemable? I worked with them. for 38 years in middle school and they can also be brilliant, deep and understanding. Has Berg ever met an 11 year old? It goes on and on. And so could I, but I won't. This isn't real life and if Berg thinks it is, as an often astute, perceptive interpreter of American values and relationships, I'm afraid she's lost something. I do feel like I owe her a debt and should go back to the shelves, retrieve another Berg book, and give her a second chance because she has delivered so many times in the past. Do I owe her that? Probably not, but most, if not all, authors,have their better, stronger works and others that don't quite meet the mark. So, I'll give her another shot. And hope for much, much better