Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D., by Nichole Bernier.

This would be the first time they would be getting together with the children but without Elizabeth. Kate and Chris hadn't brought James and Piper when they came up for the funeral, a maudlin affair made worse by the baby in the front row drooling and pinwheeling her arms at the photo of her mother on an easel. Now the kids would be playing together like old times, but for the adults, all the roles would be unfamiliar. Dave would be host and hostess, Kate just a polite guest in the kitchen. He might jiggle the baby on one hip as he composed plates and poured small cups of milk, and Kate would offer help, trying not to sound as if she questioned his competence. She would have to be social glue for the men, who had only ever come together because of their wives, and someone would have to take the lead with the kids. We don't throw sand at our friends, and It's time to take turns with the backhoe. That had been Elizabeth's job.

It had all been Elizabeth's job.

This book is one of the best I have read recently. When Elizabeth Martin, wife and mother to three young children, suddenly dies in a plane crash on her way to New Mexico for a painting retreat, the news is devastating to all who knew her. In her will, she leaves everything to her husband, Dave, except for a stack of old journals in an antique trunk, which she leaves to her friend Kate, with a note staying "Start at the beginning." Details emerged that she was going to New Mexico to meet someone named Michael, and Dave is worried she was cheating on him; perhaps even leaving the family behind. Wanting to honor Elizabeth's wishes, however, Kate starts reading the journals at the beginning, which start when Elizabeth was a child, and she finds that the person she knew - the cheerful woman adept at being a mother - is not always how Elizabeth was; she had to work hard to get to that point.

The writing in the novel is flawless, though it's not the easiest to get through because it's so detailed. There are a few books I've read that are so good that you forget they are fiction, because they seem real, and this book definitely qualifies. Through reading the journals, we see Kate's neuroses and we peek into her past as well, and we see how she too transitioned from girlfriend, to wife, to mother. The novel also shows us that as much as we think we might know someone, everyone has their secrets, and they aren't always revealed to us until the very end.

 The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D. will be in stores on June 5th. 4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed, however, are my own.


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