The Year of Pleasures
By Elizabeth Berg.
Random House, $24.95.
Before John Nolan died of cancer, he made his wife, Betta, promise she would leave Boston and start over in a small Midwestern town she had never heard of before. It would be "right" for her, he insisted. After he dies, she loads up her car and starts driving. Though she is unsure of what is "right" for a new widow, she buys a house in Stewart, Illinois, after stopping there for frozen yogurt.
The town quickly enchants Betta, and not just because of the yogurt. The locals—including a precocious little boy, a college-age handyman and a peppy real-estate agent—are all charming and helpful, and they make Betta feel at home almost immediately. But it isn't until she reconnects with her college girlfriends that Betta can finally allow herself to truly survive her husband.
An Oprah Book Club alum and bestselling author many times over, Berg has carved a deep niche of readers like Betta herself: a little older and firmly settled into the chick-lit crowd. The Year of Pleasures sits squarely in her oeuvre and seems unlikely to either earn converts or alienate fans. But at its heart, this story is a poignant one. Berg understands grief is a complex and delicate negotiation between guilt and relief that can be as whimsical as it is sad.
At its best, this book shows that grieving is about the habits of the mind—what we think about when we don't know we're thinking—and which of those habits gives us comfort or causes us pain. Using a keen eye and observant intellect, Betta learns to take comfort in simple pleasures, one at a time. Chief among these pleasures, of course, is the companionship of friends, both old and new. It's not a complex or even new formula, but it is a very real one, and one that Berg makes work.—Pete Coco