Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg

There are few authors who can, within three pages, have me totally invested in their characters.  Elizabeth Berg is one of those authors. She understands what makes us human, and she plucks those strings.

She draws us in with a glimpse into personality, such as: The last time he had a semi-serious relationship was five years ago, and that blew up when he wouldn't agree to lock his black Lab mix, emphasis on mix, out of his room on the nights she slept over. The woman complained that the dog snored and farted; John allowed that she did, too, and that was that.  Now we know that John is a dog lover (so is Elizabeth Berg) and of course he wasn't going to lock his dog out, which means that dog lovers everywhere are despising the mystery woman from five years past, who doesn't matter anyway. She is not part of the story, but her anti-dog sentiments endear us to John.

Through Sadie, John and Irene's daughter, we learn to love Irene.  Irene is hovering too much for Sadie, who is ready to be grown up and gone and away from her smothering mother.  And if you're a mother, or a doting father, you love Irene for this.  It is so hard to watch our children twirl away from us.

The sense of divorce in Once Upon a Time, There Was You is one of melancholy, but Berg infuses it with humor: John's friend Stuart, while trying to convince John to go to a divorced parents group says, "Listen, you're getting a little weird. I mean, I'll bet you walk around talking to yourself."  And of course, John does. When John realizes that Stuart and his wife must have been talking about him, he thinks, It was embarrassing, like someone telling you far too long after the fact that your zipper was open. 

Again and again, we're reminded of how human these characters are - Irene has been dating someone who suddenly decided to go back to his wife, and while she's telling her best friend, her insecurities about her aging body come out.   The writing is so plainly honest, but always with a light note.  The chapter ends on Irene remembering a tender pastime she shared with John.

The tragedy that brings John and Irene together has to do with their daughter, the tie that inextricably binds us to someone, whether we still like them, love them, or hate them.  When you have a child with someone, you're a part of their life - and after divorce - no longer by choice, but by virtue of your love for that son or daughter.  John and Irene both love Sadie very much, which creates both a connection and a certain level of jealousy that every parent has experienced, divorced or not, for every child has a "favorite" at one point or another.  Usually, it's the one who is easier.

As always, Elizabeth Berg envelopes me in her story, and I forget about my own life, and live fully in her world.  Her characters become my friends, and I laugh with them, and cry for them.   This is a story of love lost and found, family ties, and how we support and care for each other.   Enjoy it!


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