Monday, August 1, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "The Year of Pleasures"

The Year of Pleasures
By Elizabeth Berg
Copyright 2005
Random House
Adult Fiction

Betta Nolan does what many of us often dream of doing; she sells her house, picks up and moves halfway across the country. Unfortunately, she only does this after the death of her beloved husband, John. The two had planned to retire together, then move to the country. But when John is diagnosed with cancer, their plans change.

Near the end of his life, John makes Betta promise she will finish what they started, and so Betta sells the house shortly after John's death and starts driving. She finds herself in a small, midwestern town and buys the first house she sees.

As Betta confronts her new life alone, she meets many new and interesting characters, feels much pain, and tries to move forward.

The author does an absolutely amazing job of delving into the feelings and fears that Betta goes through during this process. Grief is an incredible thing, but to feel it through the words written by the author was a new experience. At one point, Betta can't sleep. She keeps thinking she hears her husband talking to her. "I left the lights on, pulled back the bedclothes, and climbed in. I listened carefully: nothing. I turned out the light and listened again. A car going by, my alarm clock ticking. I took of my coat and boots, then lay back down. Some nights lasted weeks."

When I was about two chapters into this book I thought for sure it was going to be a 5 Bookmark book. In the end though, I really felt like the author let some really great opportunities get away from her.

After John's death, Betta finds a box with dozens of small slips of paper that John had written on; "Japanese tea ceremony", "iron grates", "Soprano gone--good". Betta is at first confused, but eventually realizes what John was trying to tell her. The memories Betta recollects as she's looking at these slips of paper were entrancing, but unfortunately, the author left it at that. They ended up being no more than just a sideline to the story.

That author also seemed to miss a few beats with another angle of the story. Betta meets a gentleman who is interested in her. She tries to force herself to move forward with him, but it just never feels right. I think the author could have explored this area a little bit further and gone into more detail about why she wasn't ready for another relationship yet, but instead she just sort of lets it fizzle and then get snatched out of her hands.

There were definitely parts of the book that I liked, and other parts I was disappointed with. One thing that always made me catch my breath were the moments in the book where Betta "remembers" that she's grieving. She thinks, "...part of me still lingered at John's side, staring both at him and at the future without him, waiting to see if he were going to change his mind and come with me after all." Heartwrenching for anyone who has ever loved another.

Although there was never a clear explanation for the title of the book, I did really enjoy reading it. There were a few moments where I would find a small tear in my eye, but it was good because it made me remember those in my life who I have lost, and appreciate those in my life that I still have.

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