SAY WHEN

Elizabeth Berg, Author . Atria $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7434-1136-3

Husbands frequently tune out their spouses, but Frank Griffin makes valiant attempts to ignore Ellen, his wife of 10 years, when she announces she has a lover and wants a divorce in this endearing, undemanding novel by Berg (True to Form, etc.). Griffin (he goes by his last name) struggles to hold on to his normal life—namely his house and his eight-year-old daughter, Zoe—while repairing his relationship with Ellen. Refreshingly, Berg tells the story from Griffin's point of view: he refuses to leave home, insisting that he and Ellen live as roommates, and tries to wear her down with small acts of kindness. A decent man and a good provider, Griffin is also—he comes to realize—a less-than-exciting partner at times, dismissive of his wife's attempts to get him to read poetry and see art movies, or try anything new at all. Eccentric, shy Ellen, an isolated, stay-at-home mother whose only friend is the waitress at her regular diner, has her own flaws. In trying to live out her adolescence 20-plus years too late, she flaunts her new romance in ways that evoke either disdain or pity for her naïveté. Some readers may feel she gives up her quest for more freedom too quickly; others will appreciate the way she explores her complicated feelings about her marriage. Griffin, meanwhile, makes changes, too, trying a stint as a shopping mall Santa and winning a few dates. Berg has a talent for dialogue, and her skillfully crafted interactions between characters—scenes with tomboy Zoe are always a bright spot—are homey and convincing. These days, separation and divorce are commonplace, but a book that treats those subjects with Berg's tenderness and understanding is not. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (June)

Forecast:Berg's novels are high-quality comfort food, and sell accordingly. In returning to the theme of divorce, which she explored in the bestselling Oprah pick Open House, she is on particularly solid ground.

Reviewed on: 05/12/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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