Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Open House by Elizabeth Berg
Published May 2001 by Random House
Samantha's husband has just left her, saying that he doesn't think he ever really loved her and leaving her with their eleven-year-old son. After a major spending spree, Samantha realizes that she's going to need to do something to make ends meet. She decides to take in boarders and her first is 78year-old Lydia. When Lydia moves in, the moving man is King, and MIT graduate who is now working odd jobs and whom Samantha strikes up a friendship with. Eventually Samantha has taken in three boarders and is also working odd jobs. She's also started dating, with disasterous results, thanks to her overbearing mother. Meanwhile Samantha is trying to keep control of her son and deal with her estranged husband and his new girlfriend. Eventually Samantha discovers that her primary job is going to have to be to discover who she truly is before she can make the rest of her life work.
It's been several years since I last read any Berg. I don't remember it as being especially wonderful but I do remember liking it and finding it a very original story. I was hoping to find the same here. But the plot is well-worn--husband leaves wife, finds new girlfriend, wife has to find way to make ends meet while worrying about whether or not her son will prefer his father to her now, wife meets new man who is completely not her type but whom the readers will already now is the man she is destined to end up with. Even taking in boarders to make ends meet is not a new plot device.
Most of the characters in this book also struck me as being reworked stereotypes. The little old lady, the gay man, the rebellious young woman and even the wandering husband, the spurned wife off on an I'll-show-him spending spree. What was a surprise? The fact that Lydia has a boyfriend and she often spends the night with him. King being an overweight guy who spends part of the book working to on losing weight to attract Samantha.
All of that being said, Berg does a good job of finding the voice of Samantha and taking her on the emotional rollercoaster ride that you would expect this kind of situation would produce. And a telephone appearance by Martha Stewart is really funny.
Other reviewers seem to like this book. But it just wasn't for me. If it were the first Berg novel I'd read, I'm not sure I'd pick up another. But I won another of her books and I'll be coming at that one with an open mind, hoping that I'll enjoy it as much as I did the first Berg book that I read.