BOOK: The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg

I had a really hard time writing this book review because I’m still, several days after finishing it, feeling extremely conflicted about this novel.

It’s the story — told in alternating diary entries and letters to her husband — of a 50 year-old woman named Nan who is unhappy with her life and her marriage and decides to get in her car and go on a road trip until she figures out what to do about it. On the way, she frequently stops to talk to other woman — total strangers — about their own lives, eventually getting a better handle on her own in the process.

Sounds great, right? And it starts out pretty great, too. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten in my car, gotten onto the freeway to go run an errand, and had to battle the urge to just KEEP GOING. So, I could relate to Nan’s yen for freedom, in some ways. But it wasn’t long before I started to get a funky feeling about her. And then it wasn’t long after that that I found I just absolutely wanted to smack her and tell her to wake the frak up and get a heckin’ life. Which is, ironically, exactly what Nan thought she was doing — but she was doing it WRONG, my friends. Totally and completely WRONG.

Most of what Nan has to say in her diary entries and letters to the husband she left behind, Martin, can be summed up with these three words: bitch, moan, complain. And her single greatest complaint has to do with the fact her husband has never listened to her. Never taken the time to understand her. Refused to consider appreciating the little things that she so appreciates. Nan tells us story after story of the time Martin rolled his eyes at her when she stopped to point out the lovely shape of a perfume bottle in a store, or the time Martin took her for granted, or the time Martin didn’t want to do this, or didn’t want to do that, or said this, or said that. She complains that she just sucked it up for 30 years of marriage — swallowed her sense of self-worth and pressed on without complaint — and now she’s had it with Martin and his utter lack of appreciation for what makes her HER.

In theory, I can see how this might appeal to a lot of women, and at first, it also appealed to me. I mean, I know I complain about my husband not appreciating me from time to time, and I hear a lot of other women doing it too. But it wasn’t long before I started to feel really, really bad for Martin. Because every letter Nan writes to him is packed with vicious little jabs disguised as her increasing self-awareness, and all the while, she keeps reassuring him over and over that she loves him and is coming home (“You stink. Love you!”). I found that pretty twisted, personally. And by the end of the novel, the last sentence of which was STILL a little jab, however unintentional, I couldn’t help but think Martin ought to pack his suitcase and not be there when she gets back.

Got a husband who makes you feel underappreciated? Well, here’s a tip — don’t wait THIRTY YEARS to speak up about it! If you do then I’m sorry, but I can’t help but feel you and your self-made martyrdom are far more to blame for your unhappiness than the fact your husband doesn’t appreciate the glassy curves of a perfume bottle.

And, as if all this weren’t bad enough, allow me to also point out that the fact Nan could afford this rather extravagant punishment of her husband — leaving him for several months spent driving around, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants — because Martin just spent 30 years working hard and investing his income, making Nan an extremely rich woman.

Frankly, after turning the last page of this novel, my primary thought was, “Martin, buddy — you could do a lot better.” Hey, whaddaya know — turns out my feelings about this novel weren’t so complex after all. . . [FICTION]

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