Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review & Giveaway: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

Reviewed by Christine-Chioma and Connie

The publisher, Crown, is sponsoring a giveaway of this book. Enter to win your own copy at the end of this review.

Published: 2012

It's about: This book juxtaposes the lives of two seemingly simple mothers and reveals their complicated inner struggles, fears, and secrets. One of these women is Elizabeth, an apparently perfect suburban mother content to stay at home with her kids. The other is Kate, a former pastry chef turned stay-at-home mom who is left with Elizabeth's journals after Elizabeth dies in a plane crash around the same time as 9/11. In a spontaneous addendum to her will, Elizabeth leaves the journals to Kate, asking that she start from the beginning and use her sensitivity to determine what to do with them. The book explores several themes, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the struggle between motherhood and career ambition, death, and when we are protecting our loved ones and when we are deceiving them.

Christine-Chioma thought: I devoured this book! I started reading it at seven in the evening and finished it just after midnight. I really enjoyed the way Bernier weaved Elizabeth's old journal entries with Kate's past and present. I felt emotionally invested in all of the narratives and Bernier's characterization was brilliant. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It was deeper than I expected--without being too heavy. The characters contemplated many of the things we don't talk about: how we're perceived by others, how much we can really know another person, how much we can rely on others. I also enjoyed the overarching theme of the things we share with others and the things we don't. The plot was compelling (and a bit mysterious) while remaining realistic. I liked the book so much I was worried about the ending, but it was satisfying.

Connie thought: When Crown emailed us about this book, they advertised it as "the perfect summer read," and I would agree. After reading so many heavy books this year (Moby Dick, Anna Karenina) and then boring pregnancy books (I'm expecting!), this book was a great way to mix it up. For a beach read, this book's prose is surprisingly good, and the themes are also surprisingly vast and deep -- if not deep for a serious piece of literature, deep for a summer read. While the story is not anything revolutionary, I appreciated that the author strove to depict the complexities of stay-at-home mothers, who are often reduced in people's minds to women who are happy to clean up other people's poop and spit-up all day. Bernier shows the difficulties of choosing one's children over one's career, the insecurities of not living up to other people's expectations, and the nagging, unfulfilled longing in these two SAHMs.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf

Reading Recommendations: Connie says, if you're looking for something lighter without wanting to stray so far from literature as to try, say, Tyra Banks' Modelland, this is an excellent, lighter alternative. Christine-Chioma says, it would be a good book club pick--great discussions!

Warnings: Very clean. Some cutaway sex scenes (meaning no details but you knew when characters had sex) and some mature themes, including death, alcoholism, infidelity, and abortion.

Favorite excerpts:
"A sister was a companion and a competitor, the person who best understood the crucible in which you were formed. One of the few capable of completing you, and if lost, of cleaving you cleanly in half."

"But that's the funny thing about people who don't fit into a box. They grow to infiltrate everything, and when they suddenly go missing, they are missing everywhere."

"I will be okay. But the price I'll pay for not having to do this alone will be never having the certainty that I can count on him."

"There was something reflexive in the forgiveness, but of course, once you knew what made a person into a collection of oddities and defenses. The work to reach that knowing was exhausting, not the forgiving. That seemed to happen on its own."

* We received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

To enter the giveaway for a free copy of this book, leave a comment on this post including your email address. We will leave the giveaway open until 12:00 am on Wednesday, August 8th.