Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Putting the basic premise of "Talk Before Sleep" in a nutshell--two friends in their early forties, one dying of breast cancer, the other helping her through it--makes it sound like a bad Lifetime movie melodrama, but it isn't like that at all. Elizabeth Berg has a keen ear (and heart) for the way women are with each other; the way we talk, the things we feel, and the way we know each other in a way that men can't understand.
The two main characters, passionate artist Ruth and dependable, careful Ann, might seem like a mismatch at first, but they balance each other. When Ruth becomes ill, Ann puts her own life with her husband and nine-year-old daughter on hold, and devotes herself to taking care of her dying friend. About half of the book is told in flashback, and the reader gets to see how these two women have bonded over time.
I've read any number of Berg's novels, and she has a wonderful sense for the simple scene that says a lot, in a marvelous way. For example, in one scene in this book, Ann is looking at a painting which hangs over Ruth's bed. It is a watercolor of a group of women laying languidly in a field on a sunny day. Ann finds it so evocative that she can feel the warm sun, and smell the grass. Then she thinks, how can they do that? Don't they have to go get groceries for dinner, or something?
There are several very well-drawn and interesting side characters in this book. Nothing seems cardboard, or paint by number. I ended up feeling like I knew all of these women, and I do. I have either known them or been them. Berg gets to the heart of things, with humor and with humanity.
On a personal note, the last two books I have read and reviewed were both novels by favorite authors I had not read in a while, and they were both hiding, forgotten and unread until now, on my bookshelf as if patiently waiting for me to find them again. I'm glad I did.
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