One of the joys of writing book reviews is when I discover a lovable new-to-me author, and Elizabeth Berg is my new favorite. How have I not known about Elizabeth Berg until now?
The Story of Arthur Truluv (Mason Series #1) is a beautiful story about three people who find their way out of loss and loneliness together. Widowed Arthur eats lunch at the cemetery each day to visit with his wife. There he meets young Maddy, who is ducking out of school. When Arthur’s nosy neighbor Lucille gets involved, the three of them form an unconventional family.
But guess what? I almost didn’t finish this book.
Early on, I walked away several times, unsure if it was worth continuing. But each time I put the book aside, I found myself wondering about the characters. What were they up to now? Were they getting through life okay? I started worrying about them! And you know that the only anecdote to that problem is to keep reading!
It can be a gamble reading a new author, isn’t it? We don’t know how she will throw life’s drama at us, or if we can trust her to treat us with care. The Story of Arthur Truluv is definitely a shareable book, but sensitive readers will want a heads up about a couple of things.
First, early in the book, Maddy thinks about and anticipates specific sexual activity. The actual acts happen between lines, and as the story progresses, we realize we needed to understand Maddy’s thoughts to fully appreciate who she is and how she is growing.
Also, there’s a small amount of language scattered throughout the book.
Now, on to the more interesting lure of the book. This is one of those books that some readers will criticize because “nothing happens,” and by this they must mean that none of the traditional action that often sells books happens. There are no high stakes to be won or lost, no tragic accidents to recover from, no sinister antagonists to avenge, no wars to rise from as a hero. Instead, this story is quietly relational.
We’re dropped into the lives of everyday, average people, working their way through life. People who could be our neighbors. People who could be us.
Another interesting aspect of this book is Arthur’s daily interaction with the cemetery. At each grave, he has created a story of who that person might be, what they might have done, how they might have died. It creates short stories within the main story. I think it also makes the title that much more spot-on.
There are also a couple of interesting mechanics about this book that my reading-writing friends might appreciate. For one, while there are scene breaks, there are no chapter breaks. No chapter breaks! It creates a unique flow to the story.
For another, while the book is written in third person, it is also written in present tense, so readers experience each moment the same way the characters do, but through a narrator. (If you’re a fan of this style, like I am, consider reading my review of the Paradise series by Elin Hildenbrand.)
And book cover nerds will appreciate this book’s cover, which depicts a poignant moment and is its own pictorial summary of the relationship between Arthur and Maddy. I think it’s really beautifully done.
As a new fan of Elizabeth Berg, I went to her website and poked around. Most of her books have fun, compelling covers like this one. There are also links to summaries of her books, as well as Berg’s personal thoughts about each book. Regarding The Story of Arthur Truluv, Berg writes:
What was the inspiration? I kept seeing the image of an old man in a cemetery, sitting on a little fold up chair by his wife’s grave, eating a sandwich. I wanted to know who this man was, what his life was like. I felt he had something to teach me, and I was right!
The Story of Arthur Truluv is the first in a series based in fictional Mason, Missouri. On her website, Berg assures us that each book can be read as a stand-alone novel. So you know I am putting more of Elizabeth Berg’s books on my library list!
Reader, what books are on your library list this fall?
Does a cozy story like this one appeal to you? The Story of Arthur Truluv could make a nice fireside companion. (And oh! Speaking of fireside companions … I almost forgot to mention that there is also a delightful cat in this story!)
Here with you,