Thursday, December 20, 2018

Book Review: "The Story of Arthur Truluv" by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg's The Story of Arthur Truluv is like a hug in book form. Sweet, moving, and life-affirming, it makes you long to know, or associate with, people like these characters.

"Arthur thinks that, above all, aging means the abandonment of criticism and the taking on of compassionate acceptance. He sees that as a good trade."

Arthur Moses is 85 years old. Every single day he visits the cemetery where his beloved wife, Nola, is buried. He has lunch with her every day. He wishes he could see her again, or at least get a sign that she knows he's visiting, but it doesn't really matter, because these visits are an important part of his life.

Beyond going to the cemetery, tending to his rose garden, and dealing with the unpredictable affections of his cat, his life tends to be fairly routine, and spent mostly alone, although he and his know-it-all neighbor Lucille will sometimes spend time talking on Lucille's porch. It's not necessarily an eventful existence, but he's not unhappy, and he feels he's doing more than simply biding his time until he is reunited with his wife again.

One day while at the cemetery he meets Maddy, a lonely, introspective, 18-year-old girl who spends time there every day in an effort to escape from school and the bullying and disdain of her fellow classmates. Maddy is touched by Arthur's kindness and generosity, and starts to look forward to seeing him at Nola's grave, and confiding in him things she can't tell anyone else.

"She doesn't exactly know why kids don't like her. She's good-looking enough. She has a sense of humor. She's not dumb. She guesses it's because they can sense how much she needs them. They are like kids in a circle holding sticks, picking on the weak thing. It is in people, to be entertained by cruelty."

When Maddy mentions to Arthur that she is in need of a place to stay, he opens his home to her, paying her a salary for taking care of him and cleaning the house. It isn't long before Lucille, who is coping with her own issues, becomes the third member of an unlikely trio, each trying to find the things they can do on their own, yet they are buoyed by the companionship they never had, or at least haven't had in some time.

Berg did such a wonderful job with this book. These characters have struggles, struggles which at one point threatened to consume them, but they persevered, and discovered how much better life can be when spent with people who care about you, and whom you care about. The Story of Arthur Truluv is a moving example of how the family you choose can often provide more love and security than the family into which you are born.

While the book is predictable, it is just so charming. Arthur seems a little too good to be true sometimes, but Berg gives you glimpses of things his late wife criticized him for, or wished he did differently. The other characters are also memorable and their flaws make them even more human. She so accurately portrays emotions like grief, loneliness, and despair.

"'See, that's what I do. I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator, that's what I do and that's all I want to do. I worked for a lot of years. I did a lot of things for a lot of years. Now, well, here I am in the rocking chair, and I don't mind it, Lucille. I don't feel useless. I feel lucky.'"

At least every now and again, it's great to read a book that restores your faith in the goodness of people. With The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg has given us such a book.

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