cover image ORDINARY LIFE: Stories


Elizabeth Berg, . . Random, $24.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43746-8

Focusing, in 15 short tales, on those moments in women's lives that provide opportunity for reflection, bestselling author Berg (Open House, an Oprah's Book Club selection) zeroes in on the same kind of emotional revelations she plumbs in her novels. In many cases, her characters have simply reached a point at which they need to take stock, as has 79-year-old Mavis in the title story, who decides to hole up in the bathroom for a week. Supplied with food and magazines, and keeping her baffled husband at bay, Mavis ponders the seemingly arbitrary events of her marriage, the upbringing of her children, and the recent death of her sister, wondering if there is any meaning to it all. The adult daughter in "Caretaking" remembers her childhood as she learns how to cope with her mother, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease; in "What Stays," a young daughter takes solace in memories of her mother's gentleness and love. Couples who are at a dead end in their relationships learn things about themselves in unexpected ways, such as the pair in "White Dwarf," who examine the fallout of the wife's affair while playing a word-association game. "Martin's Letter to Nan" is the husband's response to the wife who left home in Berg's novel, The Pull of the Moon. While the men and women who populate the stories typify the monolithic entities of the fabled battle of the sexes—"men don't talk" is a refrain repeated more than once—Berg's gentle probing of everyday events offers insight into turning points of life that may not set off fireworks but are nevertheless indelible. Affecting and sentimental, these stories could easily appear in the magazines sold at grocery checkout counters; as light commercial fiction, they should provide sustenance for Berg's fans. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. 10-city author tour. (Feb. 26)