Saturday, May 5, 2012

Alice's Review: Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Summary:  This is a novel about the vagaries of love and the cost of love and the worth of love and the utter confusion of love.On her wedding day, Irene Marsh sits in the bride's room asking her best friend Valerie to go and get the car and help her escape. And if Valerie doesn't want to help, Irene understands; she says can take a bus home.  On the night before his wedding, John Marsh sits in a bar with his best friend who asks a nervous John to recall why he's marrying Irene, in an effort to calm him down. John says: "Because she doesn't wear make-up?"  Perhaps not surprisingly, this marriage ends in divorce. But many years later, the couple is brought together again because of something terrible that happens to the one thing they still have in common: their beloved daughter.  I write novels for lots of different reasons. This time, I wanted to look at what if. What if a couple long divorced were suddenly thrust into living in the same house together again, seeing each other--and themselves-- in new ways. What might happen? As is typical of my books, there's a mix of humor and pathos here, and illumination of some difficult truths. In one of my favorite scenes, Irene and Valerie show each other their aging bodies, in an effort for Irene to determine if she's "normal." And for all of you who are going to ask if I ever did that, the answer is no. But I kind of wish I could. Irene is an eccentric character and a bit difficult at times, but she is so full of love. All she has to do is figure out is a way to let it out.

Review:  I’m a sucker for relationship novels.  I love romance, I love the idea of love.  I love all aspects of it, the good and the bad.  As you all know, I read with my heart and Once Upon a Time, There Was You had a lot that made my heart very happy.

The novel focuses on three separate relationships:  Eighteen year old Sadie discovering love for the first time, her mom, Irene mending a broken heart (sort of) after a recently ended relationship, and John, Sadie’s father, cautiously stepping back into the dating game.  Not only does Ms. Berg deal with romances for each character but with their relationships with each other.

Once Upon a Time, There Was You is pretty much a coming of age stories with Sadie, Irene and John each coming into their own.  Sadie’s growth was sweet but forgettable, and John’s was a matter of timing.  Irene is the story that I related to the most.  Hers took the most courage.  It has to be hard to be in your mid 50s starting over again.  And she does it with style.  By style, I mean she is the classic case of F.I.N.E.: Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.  I loved Irene.  I think I fell in love with her when while placing a personal ad, she wrote this:

"I believe in defacing books.  I think one’s personal library should be full of books with broken spines and meaningful passages underlined, with pages marked by chocolate or coffee or grease stains.  If there are comments or questions in the margins, even better."

I loved this, and this alone is one of the major reasons I will never abandon tree books for ebooks.  Irene was kooky, a bit odd, funny, passionate.  Her neurosis brought great humor to this novel that probably wasn’t meant to be funny.  I guess I saw a bit of myself in her.  Kind of trying her best, hoping for a good outcome, but scared to death of actually receiving that good outcome.

The other passage I had to underline was about marriage.  As a single person, I think I’ll take this piece of advice to heart.  It was the one thing that failed me in the past, and the one thing I am changing in my current relationship.

“You know, sometimes marriage is iron.  Sometimes it’s tissue paper.  And I think the times it’s tissue paper are when you need to keep things to yourself.  Or you can end up making a mistake that you’ll regret forever.” Valerie to Irene.

Once Upon a Time, There Was You focused mainly on how well do you know someone, what to keep to/for yourself, and when you start to lose yourself (your authentic self) in a relationship.  I really enjoyed how each character found a peace in their situation.  They had to grow apart in order to be together.  I was beautiful to read, and to experience along with the characters. 

 As much as I enjoyed this novel, the one major flaw was the abduction of Sadie.  It served no purpose other than to reunite John and Irene to deal with the aftermath.  I felt it was unnecessary.  I kept waiting for more to come from that plot that never arrived.  It left me feeling wanting.

Overall, Once Upon a Time, There Was You is another good Elizabeth Berg novel and a solid example of why she is one of my favorites.

Final Take:  4/5



Stephanie @ Read In a Single Sitting May 6, 2012 at 3:07 PM  

I love the sound of this one, and what a fabulous quote from the author! I've only recently taken to annotating (second-hand) books, and I'm still about nervous about defacing my beloved collection!

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