May 14, 2007 archive

The Art of Mending – Book Review

As for mending, I think it’s good to take the time to fix something rather than throw it away. It’s an antidote to wastefulness and to the need for immediate gratification. You get to see a whole process through, beginning to end, nothing abstract about it. You’ll always notice the fabric scar, of course, but there’s an art to mending: If you’re careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth. -From The Art of Mending, page 14-

Elizabeth Berg has written a story of family secrets and ultimately forgiveness in her thirteenth novel. I don’t believe this is Berg’s best effort – the story felt a bit contrived to me and the characters are deeply flawed. And there is plenty of blame to go around in this dysfunctional family.

Luckily, Berg revealed her brilliance as a writer enough times to redeem the novel for me. The carefully drawn character of Laura (the narrator) along with her friend, Maggie, uncover the joy of women’s friendships – a common theme in Berg’s novels.  Berg’s ability to uncover the truths of every day life always astounds me. At one point, she describes Laura’s addiction to quilting and her penchant to collect fabric – needed or not. It reminded me of a recent conversation I had on a book group where the participants were discussing “hiding” their newest purchases from their loved ones who thought they already had enough unread books in their home. It is passages like this that kept me reading:

One of the reasons I liked to be in fabric stores was that I was surrounded by people who shared the same benign illness as I. Once, waiting in line to pay for a nice selection of miniature florals, I’d heard the woman ahead of me say, “I have to hurry up and get home and hide this. If my husband sees me bringing in more fabric, he’ll kill me.” “Oh, I know,” the woman she’d spoken to had answered. “I’ve been hiding mine for years. Try taking it home in a grocery bag. Just throw a box of Kotex on top and he won’t go near it.” That second woman had such a high pile of fabric in her arms she could hardly see over it. When the clerk who rang her up had asked what she was going to make with it, the woman answered with no sense of irony whatsoever, “Nothing.” I smiled at the woman behind me, who shrugged and said, “You know what they say. Whoever dies with the most fabric wins.” -From The Art of Mending, page 137-

This was a quick read and Berg’s literary style and appeal kept me turning the pages despite the thin plot.

Cautiously recommended.

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