Sunday, December 23, 2018

Book Review: "Night of Miracles" by Elizabeth Berg

Having just read Elizabeth Berg's sweet, life-affirming book, The Story of Arthur Truluv (see my review), I dove right into its follow-up, Night of Miracles, rather than wait for the characters to get a little bit foggy. It was nice not to have to say goodbye to the characters right away.

"This is what happens. You live past your time of importance and relevance and the world must be given over to the younger ones. Lucille is all right with that notion. As the old folks yielded to her as a young woman, she will yield to the young folks coming up after her."

Lucille Howard knows she's getting on in years, but she's not willing to simply sit around and let loneliness and despair conquer her. Her baking classes, started at the suggestion of her dear friend Arthur, have become so popular that she has to hire an assistant. She never would have thought so many people would want to learn how to bake (even though she knew nobody baked as well as she did), and she's shocked that her classes appeal to men and children as well as women.

Things have gotten so popular, she needs to hire an assistant, so she hires Iris, a newcomer to their small town of Mason, Missouri. Iris doesn't know how to bake, actually (her answer to Lucille's question, "What can you add to milk to make it a substitute for buttermilk?" was "butter"), and she doesn't need to work, but she needs a distraction from thinking about the way her marriage ended and how she quickly left her old life in Boston.

Night of Miracles also brings back Maddy and Nola from The Story of Arthur Truluv, and introduces some new characters whose lives connect with Lucille and Iris. Much like its predecessor, this book is about how we come to depend on our friends, even people we don't expect to become friends, to help us through life's challenges. Without realizing it, our friends become our family, sometimes providing more support and love than those who share the same blood with us.

Most of the characters in this book are dealing with some sort of challenge, be it grief, sadness about the path their life has taken, illness, self-esteem, or loneliness. As you might imagine from reading this book, everyone's problems will be taken care of (if not quite solved), and they'll realize that the challenges they face make the outcome that much sweeter, but it takes a while to come to that discovery.

"What Maddy has come to believe is that certain life circumstances make for people who walk with a psychic limp for all of their days. Never mind the progress they seem to make, peel back a few delicate layers and there it is: a stubborn doubting of worth; an inability to stand with conviction behind anything without wondering if they should be standing there at all; a sense that if they move in this direction it's wrong; and if they move in that direction, that's wrong, too."

Once again, Berg has created a warm and moving book, sweet and predictable yet enjoyable. I didn't think it was as strong as The Story of Arthur Truluv, however, because there were a lot of characters introduced in this book that didn't do much, and simply popped in and out of the story to advance the plot. (I found Lucille's next-door neighbors almost an afterthought.)

While I enjoyed Lucille's character, and that she is so much more than the know-it-all curmudgeon she appears to be, she wasn't quite appealing enough to anchor a book the way Arthur was.

That being said, reading Night of Miracles was like returning to a place you enjoy. Definitely read The Story of Arthur Truluv first, but both books will make you smile, and maybe even evoke a tear or two. Berg knows how to tug at your heartstrings without being manipulative or maudlin. These seem to be perfect books for the holiday season.

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