Once Upon a Time, There Was You
Random House, April 5, 2011
About this novel, the Booklist review said, "An enchanting and empathic storyteller, Berg delights in the eccentricites that shape complex personalities and excels in decoding the chemistry and paradoxes of relationships. She is also an avid appreciator of the pleasures of food, funny and assuring on the subject of age, and an advocate for kindness. All of these elements are at work in her latest comedy of marriage. Irene and John stayed together long enough to have Sadie, whom they adore. Sadie is 18 and ready for college. She is also secretly in love. John is, too, though things with Amy, a charming chatterbox, are precarious. Irene, who works for a tempestuous caterer, has just broken up with another bad match generated by her hilariously loopy personal ads. All is droll and intriguing until Berg swerves, briefly, into the realm of terror, thus dramatically deepening questions about fear, love, family, and what one makes of one's life. Berg's tender and wise novels are oases in a harsh world. With more than 20 books, Berg reigns supreme as a best-selling fiction writer of charm and substance."
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.
Here is a quote from the book, something John and Irene's daughter, Sadie, thinks:
People are stupid. Why are they so stupid? There is an algorithm for the way humans are designed: love and be loved. Follow it and you're happy. Fight against it and you're not. It's so simple, it's hard to understand.