Excerpt from The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Story of Arthur Truluv

A Novel

by Elizabeth Berg

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg X
The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
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    Nov 2017, 240 pages

    Jul 2018, 272 pages


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Here comes Gordon the cat, walking stiff- legged toward him but looking about for Nola. Still. "She's not here," Arthur tells him, and pats his lap, inviting the cat to jump up. Sometimes Gordon will come, but mostly he wanders off again. Arthur has heard that elephants grieve, seems like cats do, too. Houseplants, too, for that matter. Ironically, he has no luck with them. He looks over at the African violet on the windowsill. Past hope. Tomorrow, he'll throw it away. He says that every day, that he'll do it tomorrow. She had loved the ruffled petals. "Look," she'd told him, when she brought it home, and she'd put a finger under one of the blossoms like it was a chin.

After a dinner of canned stew that looks like dog food, he heads upstairs to the unevenly made bed. She'd be pleased he does that, makes the bed. Here's the big surprise: he's pleased, too. A man doesn't always make room in his life for appreciating certain things that seem to be under women's auspices, but there's a satisfaction in some of them. The toilet seat, though. Up. And there are other grim pleasures in doing things he didn't used to get to do. Cigar right at the kitchen table. Slim Jims for dinner. What he wants on TV, all the time.

He lies down and thinks about that young girl. He feels bad for having scared her. A wave, and she seemed horrified. Seems like he understands more about the dead than the living these days, but he thinks he understands a little about her. If he sees her again, he'll shout over, "Didn't mean to scare you!" Maybe she'll shout back, "I wasn't scared! I wasn't scared, get you!" The image of her sauntering over to him, her thumbs in her belt loops, looking to pass the time. They could talk. He could introduce her to a few of the folks underground— who he thinks they were— if she wouldn't think he was crazy. Maybe she wouldn't think he was crazy; from the looks of it, she has her own strange ways. He might ask her if it didn't hurt, that ring in her nose, hanging out the bottom like a booger.

Arthur sleeps so long the next morning that when he wakes up, it's time for lunch. He sits at the edge of the bed to write the alphabet in the air with his feet, as his doctor has told him to do, to help with the arthritis there. Damned if it doesn't work, too. He heads down to the kitchen. A draft is blowing in from under the door. It's cold and windy then. Odd for May, but who can count on the weather anymore? Never mind. He'll feed Gordon and go. A promise is a promise, even if it's only one you made to yourself.

When he looks in the drawer for the can opener, he doesn't see it. No one to blame it on; he's the only one here. He shifts around the contents of the drawer, then digs deeper, and from way in the back he pulls out Mr. and Mrs. Hamburger. Lord. She kept it. He stares at the molded plastic figurine, all perky beneath the grime: the long- lashed, pink- cheeked Mrs. Hamburger, wearing a red dress with yellow polka dots, Mr. Hamburger in his dark brown suit with a derby hat perched on his bun head. Great big black shoes like Mickey Mouse's for him, chunky red high heels for her. Mrs. Hamburger used to have real hoop earrings; they're gone now. The Hamburgers' skinny white arms— they look like fat pipe cleaners— are linked; they look ready to walk off the stand they're on.

Nineteen fifty- five? Nineteen fifty- six? It was after the Korean war, he knows. He remembers the night they got it, too hot to cook so they went out to the Tick- Tock Diner and he'd bought her that figurine on their way out. It had taken Nola a long time to decide between Mr. and Mrs. Hamburger and Mr. and Mrs. Hot Dog.

They'd had a fight before they left for dinner, he recalls now. They never did fight much, but that one was a doozy. He doesn't remember what it was about, but he sure remembers it. She was just screeching at him, he'd never heard that voice before, and the veins in her neck were standing out. He remembers thinking that he had never seen her look ugly, but he thought she looked ugly then. He doesn't like that he thought that about her, but what can you do? Everybody has thoughts that shame them. You can't control them coming in. But you don't have to let them all out. That's the crux of it. That's what made for civilization, what was left of it, anyway.

Excerpted from The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg. Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Berg. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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