Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Say When by Elizabeth Berg

Title:  Say When
Author:  Elizabeth Berg
Genre:  Women's Fiction
Pages:  368
Publisher:  Washington Square Press
Summary:  Griffin is a happy man. Settled comfortably in a Chicago suburb, he adores his eight-year-old daughter, Zoe, and his wife, Ellen - shy, bookish Ellen, who is as dependable as she is dependent on him for his stability and his talent for gently controlling the world they inhabit. But when he wakes up one morning to hear of his wife's love affair with another man and her request for a divorce, Griffin's view of life is irrevocably altered. Overnight he goes from being Ellen's husband to being her roommate, from her lover to a man denied passion and companionship. Now he must either move on or fight for his marriage, forgive his wife or condemn her for her betrayal, deny or face up to his part in the sudden undoing of his seemingly perfect life.

The Dish:  There's one good thing about mediating the Adult Book Club at my library.  I'm able to test the waters in genres I wouldn't normally read through the titles selected from our library system's Book Club list, which doesn't include a lot of Paranormal or YA titles.  However, sometimes there are books that I just cannot enjoy, and having to read them for Book Club makes reading less fun.

I debated on doing a review for Say When and finally bit the bullet.  As I mentioned before, this title isn't really in my genre of preference, so that could have added to my disappointment in reading it.  Griffin is a man who is hopelessly in love with his wife... he just has an odd way of showing this love mostly in how he controls their family life.  However, now Ellen is wanting to find something to do with herself besides just keep house and take care of their daughter, Zoe, who is actually smarter than her age belies and definitely picks up on the rift between her parents.

It was very hard to like either Griffin or Ellen and try to feel for their separate situations, Ellen's in wanting to "find herself" and Griffin's in wanting to maintain the life and love he thought he had.  On the one hand, I can understand Ellen's desire to be more than a housewife, but I cannot condone the route she took in trying to become more.  There were any number of other means she could have done to expand her horizons: 1) get a job, 2) take a class she would enjoy, perhaps an art class since she seemed to favor paintings, 3) take up a hobby.  Perhaps it was because she didn't feel strong enough to truly express her thoughts to Griffin that she felt the need to just do something, and that might be the main reason I didn't like her.

On the other hand, Griffin did not really help the situation in trying to control their life even with a gentle hand. No one likes to give up complete control of their lives to any person, and even if he is the breadwinner of the family, that does not mean his wife cannot have an opinion of her own.  It's frustrating enough when one has to do the same old thing day after day, week after week, year after year, etc. but when they express a desire to make a small change, like say with a painting, why should the idea be shot down because the breadwinner doesn't like the painting?  Both of them were frustrating as characters, and even by the end I didn't see much growth on either of their parts, which was disappointing to say the least.

I did like being able to read from the male's perspective as a nice change.  Amazingly enough, Berg has a writing style that flows very easily from cover to cover.  She created very real, though frustrating, characters in a story that could happen in any city.  I do not fault Berg's writing skills; the content of the story within this particular novel of hers was just disappointing and not my cup of tea.  Some of the ladies in Book Club told me that while they didn't enjoy this novel of Berg's quite that much, they have read other titles by her and enjoyed them much more.  While that may be, I don't think I would actively seek out another title by Berg, though I would recommend her to those who enjoy women's literature, the heavier side of chick-lit.


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