Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The little freedoms that matter

kw: book reviews, fiction, short stories, anthologies

Lots of good stories have a surprise, a twist, at the end. Many of Elizabeth Berg's stories begin with the twist. The title story of The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted (and Other Small Acts of Liberation) is just such. With flashbacks to various Weight Watcher meetings and other scenes, the story seems to unfold backwards. About halfway through the book, a companion story, "The Day I Ate Nothing I Even Remotely Wanted", forges through the one day the character makes a serious attempt to keep her diet, ending with a dose of NyQuil, the only thing all day that tasted good.

Weight is a major theme, for about half the stories. I began to wonder why. A quick check in Google Images just fed my curiosity: Ms Berg is a very attractive woman, with no weight problem that I can see. Of course, in this culture that idolizes Size Zero, 99% of the grown women are practically forced to think of themselves as too fat. When I was young, Size 14 was considered normal, at least for Euro-American women.

Berg's primary theme, however, is growth, the growth that comes from leaving one's comfort zone, if even for a moment. The best example is "Sin City," of a woman who really escapes her mundanity for a while with a jaunt to Las Vegas. Then there is "How to Make an Apple Pie", my absolute favorite. The only thing to which I can compare it is a story by Mark Twain of an old fellow who could never complete a story. But this recipe does get completed, at least in a PS. Best pie recipe I've ever seen, but don't be surprised if you can't do it!

The author's extra dash of empathy allows her to write well in the voice of characters ranging from nine to 79 (or so). Her bioblurb states that she has written a nonfiction book, Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True. I'll have to scare it up. Stay tuned.

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