cover image What We Keep

What We Keep

Elizabeth Berg. Random House (NY), $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50099-2

""I don't like my mother. She's not a good person."" So declares Ginny Young on a trip to California to visit her mother, Marion, whom she hasn't seen in 35 years. Ginny is only making the trip as a favor to her sister, Sharla, who has called to say she's awaiting the results of a cancer test. In flashback, Berg (Talk Before Sleep) revisits the events of the girls' childhood and the moments when their mother's problems began to reveal themselves. One night, Ginny and Sharla overhear their mother screaming at their father about her unhappiness and telling him that she never wanted children. Then she walks out with no explanations, returning briefly a few months later to explain that she's not coming back. The following years bring occasional visits that are impossibly painful for all concerned and so full of buried anger that the girls decide to curtail them altogether. When Sharla meets Ginny (now a mother herself) at the airport, and the two see their mother again, there are surprises in store, but not especially shocking ones. The reader, in fact, may feel there is less here than meets the eye: Marion's flight is never made psychologically credible. Berg's customary skill in rendering domestic details is intact, but the story seems stitched together. Crucial scenes feel highlighted rather than fleshed out, and Ginny's bitterness disappears into thin air as she reaches a facile, sentimental conclusion about her mother's needs. BOMC selection; author tour. (May)