August 28, 2012

"Open House" by Elizabeth Berg

Open HouseOpen House by Elizabeth Berg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Open House by Elizabeth Berg for the first time four years ago. I discovered her books at the library and read all of Berg’s titles available there, then purchased some additional titles as well. I’ve now read all of her books except, oddly considering my profession, her book on writing, which I haven’t finished yet. A few weeks ago, I decided to purchase paperback editions and re-read a few of Berg’s books. I started with Open House.

I’ve just now gone to Berg’s site to grab a short synopsis, and see that Open House was published by Random House in 2000. This novel was the author’s first (written), but not the first she had published. Here is the synopsis from

A woman whose husband has moved out decides that, rather than selling their house, she will keep it and rent out rooms to boarders. This novel, which was an Oprah pick, is about finding the gifts inside yourself that you've ignored or not been aware of. It emphasizes the fact that sometimes it takes a tragedy to get you to the best place you can be.

Here is mine:

When husband David leaves Samantha after many years of marriage, Sam first reacts by imitating Martha Stewart in an attempt to create the perfect home for her and her 11-year-old son, Travis. When this soon wanes, Sam, determined to keep the family home, opens the doors of her house and the doors of her heart to a few strangers and a man named King, who has a degree in astrophysics and works for a temp agency. Sam starts working there, too, and as the book progresses, Berg weaves the story of how a person’s heart can heal and open to the beauty of the world around them once again, even when they are so profoundly changed by circumstances that they may feel unrecognizable to their former selves. When Sam faces what she thought she once longed for, and makes a surprising decision, some readers may recognize having been faced with a similar dilemma as time marches on and our old dreams boomerang back in our faces, challenging our new desires.

Open House is not simply my favorite Elizabeth Berg book; it is one of my very favorite books ever. This is because it is well-written, well-woven, and I can relate to much of the storyline. My first marriage lasted about the same length as fictional character Samantha’s. My boys were about the same age as Sam’s son, Travis. I, too, had to figure out how to earn money, how to handle a life that had suddenly changed in what felt like every single way, how to parent pre-teen sons and in that process re-invent myself, or find myself, or just grow and change, like many people do. But this commonplace process takes extraordinary strength, I believe (not compared to humanity but compared to what we might have been called upon before to have), and Berg seems to think so also. She blends strength and a fragile sensitivity into the character of Sam (as well as King), and this makes the main character someone you would want as your best friend; someone you want to be happy and to be loved.

As a writer, I find it impressive that in the 241 pages of Open House the author has created endearing characters and a story that touched me so deeply because as I read it I thought, Yes, that! I did that same thing. I felt that same way. This is the magic of Berg’s writing, in this book and in others. If you haven’t yet discovered her books, start with one of her many titles soon.

Note: This is not a paid review, nor a requested review, and I have never worked with Elizabeth Berg, though I have liked her Facebook page.

~Janice Phelps Williams, writer, illustrator, book designer at
Author of Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals (Transformation Publishing 2012)

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Elizabeth H. Cottrell said...

I loved this book too, Janice, and for many of the reasons you so beautifully expressed. She must be a remarkable observer of people to be able to draw them so vividly and poignantly with her words.

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