cover image Talk Before Sleep

Talk Before Sleep

Elizabeth Berg. Random House Inc, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43299-9

Because it is rendered with such clarity, authority and feeling, Berg's novel may cause readers to forget that this story of a woman's death from cancer is fiction. Berg's ( Durable Goods ) depiction of a sisterhood of women banding together to succor a friend is never falsely sentimental. Accurately observed details and honest descriptions of the body's frailties make the narrative gripping and immediate. But intensely real characterizations, outrageous black humor and graceful prose are what render it memorable. Narrator Ann Stanley, a nurse who loves her young daughter and husband but sometimes hates the institution of marriage, recognizes a soul mate when she meets Ruth Thomas. A talented artist, Ruth is mercurial, outspoken, fearless, charming, charismatic. When she leaves her caustic, icy husband and (regretfully) her teenaged son, she is eager to embrace new experiences, to find love and artistic fulfillment. Instead, she is sidetracked by cancer, which she fights gallantly, even into its terminal phase. Ann and several other devoted friends spend days and nights by Ruth's side, helping her to die. Berg writes candidly--if ultimately a bit too schematically--about the bonds between women that transcend the male-female relationship. A celebration of intimate friendship as well as a cry of grief, this book is a weeper, all right, but its effect is cathartic. (May)