Until the Real Thing Comes Along
Elizabeth Berg. Random House (NY), $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45722-0
Leave it to Berg (What We Keep) to put a quirky, melancholic spin on the familiar story of an ordinary woman's quest for marriage and children. Sparkling and witty, this novel stars self-conscious dreamer Patty Murphy, a single, 36-year-old Massachusetts realtor who seesaws from hope to despair between blind dates and manicure appointments. She worries about the ticking of her biological clock--and how to ""keep her eggs healthy""--and although ""it's been a long time since I've been kissed by anyone but family members,"" she tries to stay optimistic. The biggest barrier between Patty and her version of happily-ever-after is that Ethan, the man she's in love with, is not only her ex-fianc e and lifelong best friend, but also gay. Ethan wants children, too, and eventually Patty talks him into having a baby with her. But will Patty, who's still desperate for Ethan's true love, be satisfied with what amounts to a compromise solution? Berg is facile in transforming familiar elements into apt metaphors, and her smooth transitions between tragedies and joys are punctuated with lively humor. Real life intrudes as background to Patty's dreams: Ethan struggles with his sexual orientation in the time of AIDS, and Patty copes with her mother's worsening Alzheimer's. In the face of these traumas, Patty's fixation on an idyllic apple-pie vision of domestic serenity can seem somewhat anachronistic, even frustrating, for the reader. Her longing for a different life wreaks emotional havoc for all who love her, especially as she manipulates the affectionate, lonely father-to-be. But even readers who don't empathize with Patty's neurotic but ultimately endearing search for domestic fulfillment will be affected by Berg's poignant and clever tale and her zestful combination of commercial and literary appeal. Agent, Lisa Bankoff for ICM. Major ad/promo; author tour; reading group guide. (July) FYI: Berg won the NEBA award for fiction in 1997.
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999