Summary and book reviews of Ordinary Life by Elizabeth Berg

Ordinary Life

Stories

By Elizabeth Berg

Ordinary Life
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2002,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2003,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

In this superb collection of short stories, the bestselling author of Open House and Talk Before Sleep takes us into the times in women's lives when memories and events cohere to create a sense of wholeness, understanding, and change. In Ordinary Life, Mavis McPherson locks herself in the bathroom for a week, and no, she isn't contemplating getting a divorce—she just needs some time to think, to take stock of her life, and she comes to a surprising conclusion. In Today's Special, a woman recognizes the solace she finds in the simple, timeless fare and atmosphere of the local diner and, ultimately, the harmony within her own spirit that familiar comforts can evoke. In White Dwarf, the secrets of a marriage are revealed as a couple passes the time with a seemingly insignificant word-association game. And in "Martin's Letter to Nan," the unforgettable husband and wife from Berg's novel The Pull of the Moon engage in a new correspondence in which a different aspect of their marriage is revealed.

Elizabeth Berg's fiction has been praised for its "brilliant insights about the human condition" (Detroit Free Press), and The Charlotte Observer has said that "Berg captures the way women think as well as any writer. "Those same qualities of wisdom and insight are everywhere present in Ordinary Life.

Chapter 1

Ordinary Life: A Love Story

Mavis McPherson is locked in the bathroom and will not come out. The tub is lined with pillows and blankets. Under the sink, next to the extra toilet paper, there is an economy-sized box of Wheat Thins, a bowl of apples, and a six-pack of Heath bars. Against the wall, under the towel rack, is a case of Orangina, and next to that is a neat pile of magazines and three library books. A spiral-bound notebook and pen lie on top of the toilet tank. Hanging from the hook on the back of the door are several changes of underwear.

Mavis is on retreat, she tells her husband through the crack in the door when he comes home that evening. Al volunteers at St. Mary's Hospital, dividing his time between delivering newspapers to patients and helping maintenance fix faulty equipment, though this is a secret from the administration--volunteers aren't supposed to do that. Al's mechanical skills are legendary, but he is not known for his sense...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
FOR DISCUSSION
  1. Elizabeth Berg’s writing style is spare, clear, accessible, and deft. Does it fit her material? Do you think it is easy to write this way?

  2. Berg titles this collection Ordinary Life and her characters are all “ordinary” people. What is meant by the term “ordinary” in this book? And what is it about “ordinary life” and “ordinary people” that is so compelling?

  3. In the title story, Mavis McPherson locks herself in the bathroom for a few days. Why? What good does it do? What harm? What happens in that bathroom, and what difference will the time she spent there cast over the rest of her life?

  4. Martha in “Things We Used to Believe” sees ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Seattle Times

There's something compelling about the way Berg knows her characters intimately, how she gets under their skin and leaves the reader with an indelible impression of lives challenged and changed.

Entertainment Weekly

Berg's writing is to literature what Chopin's études are to music—measured, delicate and impossible to walk away from until their completion.

Publishers Weekly

Affecting and sentimental, these stories could easily appear in the magazines sold at grocery checkout counters; as light commercial fiction, they should provide sustenance for Berg's fans.

Library Journal

Though clever, beautiful, and often funny, Berg's writing is weighted with an overwhelming sadness; readers may find the pieces hard to read in one sitting. Still, this latest by the best-selling and award-winning novelist is recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Deftly [details] those defining moments in ordinary women's lives when fresh insights help explain their discontents.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

The relentless misunderstandings between men and women are a particular forte, and Berg approaches the battle between the sexes with graceful inventiveness in several remarkable stories

Reader Reviews
Becca

First to voice an opinion
I guess I am the first to review this book, but i felt that they were wonderfully deep heartfelt stories even though they were very short. Everything that the characters felt, I felt right along with them

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