Laura Bartone, a quilt artist, and her husband Pete reconnect each evening by sharing an experience from the day and a memory from the past. THE ART OF MENDING follows the same pattern, interposing scenes from Laura's present-day life and those of her girlhood.
As the story opens, Laura muses about her sister Caroline's odd behavior while growing up. Caroline is once again acting strangely, as Laura's family heads home for a reunion. Caroline makes a big production of secretly asking for private time with Laura and their brother Steve. She wants to talk about how they grew up, suggesting that she's been having problems with some of the early family dynamics. This request mystifies and troubles Laura, who can think of nothing worth dissecting from those years.
Before Caroline can fully explain what's troubling her, their father develops health problems that land him in the hospital. When Laura visits, he hints about a mysterious occurrence in the past. Laura longs to insist he tell her, but feels she can't jeopardize his well-being.
When Caroline finally confides in her siblings, they don't know what to believe. Caroline has always been the overly dramatic family member. Surely she isn't an outright liar, yet her shocking allegations are so over-the-top, they seem to be fiction. How can Caroline's accusations mesh with the memories of her siblings? Whether they accept what Caroline says or not, Laura realizes that steps need to be taken to mend their family. They must discuss the past with their parents. But as the siblings prepare to introduce the topic, tragedy intercepts. How can the family explore their secrets and memories in the face of their overwhelming grief?
Laura's dear husband Pete and her best friend Maggie support her quest to uncover the truth while dealing with the present. They also share incidents from their own lives that demonstrate that ugly secrets can be hidden long and well in the most unlikely families.
With difficulty, Laura pushes through her initial denial and anger, probing the past she shared with her sister. She insists that their brother join her painful quest. As Caroline confides more incidents, Laura begins to consider the possibility that her sister is telling the truth --- yet she's not fully convinced by Caroline. Are Laura's own childhood memories completely false? Why weren't there more signs? Why did her sister wait so long to tell? It takes a climatic event to convince Laura which version of the past is real, and then she must take immediate action.
Elizabeth Berg can always be counted upon for an excellent read; she has yet to disappoint me. As usual, her uncanny knack for the details of life --- a conversation held during a rented video no one enjoys but no one turns off, a flouncing teenager, a beloved husband lacking in phone manners --- makes me believe that I'm not reading a book, but have actually become her character. Her lovingly depicted domestic scenes are ones I yearn for, yet they are somehow completely familiar to me. THE ART OF MENDING is also a bit of a love story, featuring not only Laura's husband but also her passion for sewing and fabric. The difficult subject manner and huge truths are handled gracefully, with an ending that satisfies while remaining realistically open-ended. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 22, 2010
The Art of Mending