What do you turn to when life goes wrong? Is it books, prayer, other people? Helen Ames thought she could turn to her writing, but even that deserted her. Elizabeth Berg tells her story in the novel, Home Safe.
It's been a year since Helen Ames' husband dropped dead suddenly in the kitchen. She's had a year to grieve, but she hasn't gotten over his death, and she hasn't been able to write. Instead she tries to interfere in her daughter's life, but, at 27, Tessa doesn't want her mother controlling her life. She's tried to apply for jobs, but she can't make it through the application process. Even her best friend, Midge, is a little disgruntled that Helen won't move on with her life. But, Helen's a woman who didn't know how to do so many of the practical skills in life, leaving them to her husband, Dan. Now, she's drifting in life, waiting for something to happen to her.
When life happens, it's a shock. Helen's accountant tells her Dan withdrew $850,000 from their investments. With her retirement savings missing, Helen jumps at the chance to teach a writing class for money. And, in doing so, she learns more than she expects, about people, life, and writing.
Even when a reader grows impatient with one of Elizabeth Berg's characters, her writing is compelling, forcing the reader to continue on. So many times, I wanted to say to Helen, you have a daughter who loves you, a terrific best friend, now, get on with life. But, as Berg probes Helen's emotions, she asks us to examine our own feelings about love, home, and moving on with life.
There is one paragraph in Home Safe that I wanted to share, part of a paragraph for those of us who love books. On p. 229, Helen remembers something she once told a crowd at a bookstore. "She told the audience that one of the best things about books is that they are an interactive art form: that while the author may describe in some detail how a character looks, it is the reader's imagination that completes the image, making it his or her own....She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one's fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page. She talked about how people complain that they don't have time to read, and reminded them that if they gave up half an hour of television a day in favor of reading, they could finish twenty-five books a year." Berg asks readers to take time to slow down, to read about Helen's life.
It was particularly interesting to read Berg's acknowledgements, in which she said she herself faced writer's block, and her daughter told her, then write about not being able to write. It takes a talented writer to tell that story. Home Safe might be Helen Ames' story, but it's also a beautifully written story of a writer, who feels as if she lost everything, not only her beloved husband, but also her writing, the art that gave her a reason to live. She lost the husband, and the writing, what kept her Home Safe.
Check out Elizabeth Berg's website at www.elizabeth-berg.net. It's a beautiful site, that appears homey itself.
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg. Random House, ©2009. ISBN 9781400065110 (hardcover), 260p.