“Before I became a writer, I was a registered nurse for ten years, and that was my ‘school’ for writing—taking care of patients taught me a lot about human nature, about hope and fear and love and loss and regret and triumph and especially about relationships—all things that I tend to focus on in my work.”
Women in transition are the focus of Elizabeth Berg’s fiction, from a teenager grieving the loss of her mother to a woman nursing her best friend through terminal cancer. “Berg always takes on the big issues: living, loving and loss,” writes Ruth Coughlin in People. Warm without being sentimental, optimistic without being cloying, and eminently readable, Berg has written more than 20 novels, three short story collections, and two nonfiction books, many of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Three of her novels were made into television movies. She has also been honored with the NEBA Award for her body of work.
Berg’s first novel, Durable Goods, won the ALA Best Book of the Year award. It traces the coming of age of the twelve-year-old narrator, Katie, and her fourteen-year-old sister, Diane. The novel is set on an army base in Texas during a summer in the 1960s. As the novel opens, the girls have recently lost their mother to cancer. They live with their abusive father, an army officer who treats them as if they were boot-camp recruits. Writing in Booklist, Diane Seaman remarked that Durable Goods is “suffused with humor and admiration for youth’s great capacity for love and instinct for truth.”
“Elizabeth Berg writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, loneliness, love and hope. And the transcendence that redeems.”
Berg’s second novel, Talk Before Sleep, focuses on the friendship between Ann, a nurse, and Ruth, who is dying. The book was shortlisted for an Abby Award, and won the AMC Cancer Research Center’s Illuminator Award for shedding light on breast cancer. In the book’s preface, Berg explains that the purpose of her novel is “to demonstrate the strength and salvation of women’s friendships” and “to personalize the devastating effects of losing someone to the disease.” Meg Meir in The Star Tribune remarked that the novel is “wickedly funny” as well as sad, and that the dialogue is “incredibly accurate in revealing what women talk about when they know each other well and are running out of time.”
Open House, Berg’s eighth novel, was an Oprah Book Club pick. It is the story of Samantha, a woman recreating her life after a divorce. Samantha’s husband has left her, and she must take in boarders to make her mortgage payments. Her first boarder is an older woman who offers sage advice and sorely needed comfort; the second is a maladjusted student who is not quite so helpful. Samantha makes a new friend who urges her to get out, get going, get work. But her real work is this: In order to emerge from grief and the past, she has to learn how to make her own happiness. Rochelle O’Gorman in the Los Angeles Times writes, “Berg captures the insanity that divorce brings on, balancing the hurt with a wry humor that makes it extremely accessible.”
Berg’s newest novel is The Story of Arthur Truluv, which Booklist called “redemptive without being maudlin”: “Fans of Meg Wolitzer, Emma Straub, or Berg’s previous novels will appreciate the richly complex characters and clear prose… This story of two misfits lucky to have found one another will tug at readers’ heartstrings.” Richard Russo wrote, “I don’t know if I’ve ever read a more affecting book about the natural affinity between the young and the elderly than Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv. It makes the rest of us—strivers and preeners and malcontents—seem almost irrelevant.”
Berg began her career writing for magazines. She was a columnist for both New Woman and Parents. Her article on a cooking school in Positano, Italy, for National Geographic Traveler magazine, won the NATJA travel-writing award. Berg lectures on her most recent books, the stories behind her stories, and the craft of writing. She lives in Oak Park, Illinois, but is a frequent visitor to San Francisco and Boston.
For more information on Elizabeth Berg, please visit elizabeth-berg.net.