Elizabeth Berg is a writer whose new books this reviewer picks up unconditionally. Why? Quite simply, she writes stories from her heart and soul about women and their lives. Berg always has something important to say about their circumstances and experiences. Best of all, her quality stories and writing always deliver a wonderful reading experience. HOME SAFE, her latest novel, is no exception.
Helen Ames measures the passing of time in days without Dan. Her husband died suddenly and has been gone 11 months and three days. He was the kind of guy who, according to Helen, handled “the practical side of their life together,” while she brought her imagination to the relationship.
And with the loss of her husband, her writing, the other anchor in her life, has suddenly taken a hiatus. Even when she gets a fan letter that would make any successful writer furious enough to think to herself, “I’ll show you what writing is all about,” she still can’t write. Her doubts worsen after she flubs a public speaking performance. With so much changed, what is her life all about now?
As Helen reacts to her grief, she turns to her daughter Tessa for help with the practical side of life. It would be easy for Tessa to become the fix-it person, just like her father. Except that Tessa is 27 years old with her own life to grow into --- which Helen hopes is marriage to a nice man.
As if she didn’t have enough to deal with, surprises are still in store for Helen. She learns that Dan, who took care of their finances, withdrew a large amount of their retirement money. She does not know why this happened or where it went, but now she worries she needs to replace it, so she takes a position teaching a creative writing workshop. Her students, who are from various ages and professions, meet and share their work, learning to understand another person’s point of view. At their graduation they will be asked to read their material to the audience in an auditorium.
Meanwhile, another workshop class is being taught by a writer whose view of writing and publishing is contrary to Helen’s. When an editor and agent decide to attend the graduation of the two classes, Helen and the other instructor wonder whose students will attract more attention. Helen still is not writing but finds satisfaction teaching writing and helping her students. This sub-plot is especially appealing on its own for anyone involved in the writing life.
When Helen eventually does discover where the retirement money has gone, her life and her relationship with her daughter become open to new perspectives and healing. And, as her personal life circumstances continue to parallel her writing career, Helen is able to reclaim herself and her creativity.
HOME SAFE is one of those books that will remain on this reader’s shelf to be read again and again. The journey that Helen Ames takes is rich with Elizabeth Berg’s expert touch, showing us a heartfelt perspective on loss and renewal. Along with Helen, we experience in unexpected circumstances how one can rediscover hope and faith.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on January 22, 2011