cover image Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Elizabeth Berg. Random, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6865-4

In Berg's anemic new novel, John and Irene Marsh, though divorced for some time, remain adoring parents to daughter Sadie, who is about to start college. Both parents are now in their fifties and trying to sort out dating and relationships, with varying levels of success. But when Sadie is kidnapped, their separate lives quickly cleave, and coping with the tragedy means that they must come together as a family. When Sadie is safely returned, and rushes into marriage, John and Irene are forced to deal with their own failures, and finally start to understand where they went wrong (as well as what they did right). Unfortunately, Berg doesn't give readers a reason to like care for any of her players, much less to invest in their relationship. And the kidnapping, both exploitative and anticlimactic, is too contrived, nothing but mechanics, the most obvious of inciting incidents. If Berg (The Last Time I Saw You) is out to plumb the depths of the modern marriage in the hopes of touching the profound, it fails to come across here. (Apr.)