Monday, July 2, 2012

Group Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D

Summary: Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.  Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew. The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage. The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died. Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

Jenn's Review:  I don't often enjoy Contemporary Fiction, but having read the description I thought perhaps The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. might be an exception.  I know families that have suffered the kind of losses dealt with in the book and I have a high empathy quotient (I cry over commercials).  It has all the promise of things I could connect with, yet it fell short of the mark for me.  I think I was looking for more mystery in the diaries and more focus on how do you move forward when your best friend bequeaths her secret past to you.

I think the other part of the problem for me was that I never really connected with either Kate or Elizabeth. We are all a product of our upbringing and our environment, but it's what we choose to do with that input that makes the difference.  Instead of the recent losses around Kate making her appreciate what she has, she lets it unravel her and make her paranoid.  Kate dwells on all of it, especially the diaries; she is consumed by it.  I agreed with her husband whole heartedly when he told Kate not to live in the past.  You can't worry about the  'what ifs', you have to enjoy the 'here nows'.

As for Elizabeth, I understand where her closed nature came from, but I found that hard to connect with as well.  More than anything, I felt sorry for her, because she missed out on so much of life by containing herself and not participating in it fully.  I don't think that kindred spirits are abundant, but they are out there and if you never let them in... well, that's also just sad.  I think both Kate and Elizabeth could have been true best friends, if Kate had chosen it.  Omission is a form of dishonesty, and worse than being dishonest with her loved ones, Elizabeth was dishonest with herself.

The ending fell a little flat for me.  I didn't find the big reveal to be novel altering, if anything, I think it detracted from the story in some ways, as if it was an attempt to lessen the tragedy.  Also, I'm not sure whether I wanted Nichole Bernier to end things a little sooner or if she ended them just a little too soon.

I don't understand our societies obsession with motherhood perfection.  Or why it's taboo to discuss our parenting failures right alongside our triumphs.  Perhaps it stems back to our obsession with image, which is another thing I don't understand.  I spent most of high school pretending to be someone I wasn't, though more from not knowing who I was than anything else.  It was exhausting... and doing that while raising a family?  Forget it.  "I 'yams whats I ams, and dats all that I 'yams" to quote Popeye.  What you see is what you get.  If anything, I think this book made me realize how lucky I am to have my husband and my best friend who also don't go for disingenuity.  

Honestly, this is a perfect example of why Contemporary Fiction just isn't my genre.  My review is only as good as my honesty, and more than anything it reflects my lack of passion for the genre.  If you like the genre, you'll probably find Julie's review a little more helpful, but I can only speak from my point of view.  I will continue to try and broaden my reading scope by venturing into other genres, but in the mean time, I mean no offense.

Final Take:  3.5/5

Julie's Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is an excellent examination of the friendships that women have and the image we try to maintain. How some of us struggle to be what is expected of us, instead of what we want to be. How do we reconcile these two people within ourselves? Can that be done without becoming bitter? How well do we really know those closest to us?

As Kate inherits her friend's journals after she dies suddenly in a plane crash shortly before 9/11/01, she begins to learn more about her friend. As Kate realizes that her friend wasn't everything she appears to be, she has to reconcile what she's learning to the person she knew. Does Kate's perception of Elizabeth change over the course of reading the journals? It has to but not necessarily negative. She just understands her friend better now that she can see her true soul.

To me what was more interesting than learning about Elizabeth, was how it revealed who Kate was to us. How 9/11/01 effected her; how it's changed her. How she's afraid when her husband has to travel overseas for his job and yet she can't admit this to him. How she does want to work outside of the house, but in her line of work it would be a major sacrifice for her family. How she's less secure in the world today than she was a few short months ago; a bit more paranoid. She doesn't want to appear weak and needy to her husband because that's not who he married.

I love how Ms. Bernier showed how multi-layered women are. Most of us don't want to be defined by being moms. Most of us have other interests or perhaps jobs that we love or at least enjoy. This isn't to say that we don't love our kids, it's just most of us don't want that to be the only thing people know about us.

Perhaps if women felt they could be more honest about how hard they find being a mom, there wouldn't be this need for mom's to be on anti-depressants to cope. Unfortunately, we feel the pressure of society to live up to certain expectations. This is all address through Elizabeth's journals.

I honestly don't think there's a women out there that wouldn't identify without least some part of this beautifully written novel.

My only issue is that I wish we would have been privy to the conversation between Kate and Chris at the end of novel.

If you keep a journal, what do you want done with them if you should pass? I don't keep a journal now but I did when I was younger and I think that I'd give them to my children. If I kept a journal as an adult, I'd want them burned. Journals are meant to keep your darkest thoughts in perhaps your darkest time. Do you really want those people you wrote about to know what you were thinking? No, that's why you kept the journal. It's an interesting situation to have to think about.

I will be looking for more with Nichole in the future. She really understands the complexity of women and of their friendships. For more on Nichole please visit her website; a literary site that she helped founded Beyond the Margins; Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Julie's Final Take: 4.5/5

Thanks to TLC for Julie's copy of the novel.

Nichole Bernier’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Monday, June 4th: Library of Clean Reads
Thursday, June 7th: Knowing the Difference
Monday, June 11th: Ashley Loves Books
Wednesday, June 13th: Regular Rumination
Thursday, June 14th: Great Imaginations
Monday, June 18th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, June 20th: Colloquium
Thursday, June 21st: Boarding in my Forties
Monday, June 25th: Bibliosue
Wednesday, June 27th: A Musing Reviews
Friday, June 29th: Broken Teepee
Monday, July 2nd: Girls Just Reading



LisaMM July 2, 2012 at 4:32 PM  

It's like you two are having a mini book club meeting online! It always amazes me how individual a person's reading tastes can be, almost like a fingerprint :) No two people ever really read the same book, because we each bring our own experiences and points of view to the table. Thanks so much for being on the tour and sharing your thoughts. The book sounds great (to me!)

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP