Desert Isle Keeper
One of the good things about being a reviewer at AAR is that you quite often read books that you otherwise might not have picked up. I have been exposed to a number of new authors and new sub-genres of romance in this way. Elizabeth Berg writes fiction, women’s fiction, and I don’t tend to read a lot of that. But perhaps I’ll have to make more of an effort from now on because Never Change was one heck of a thoughtful book and a very touching read.
Myra Lipinski you know. She’s the girl that you felt sorry for in high school, the one who was nice, but shy and quite, quite unattractive. The one boys never even looked at and girls pretty much ignored. She’s gone through life defined by the one thing she is not: good-looking. But she is everything else: smart, kind, thoughtful, independent, empathetic. She’s made a career for herself as a nurse, and she currently visits her patients in their homes. She gets a lot of satisfaction out of her job. Myra is very lonely, but otherwise rather content.
Chip Reardon you also know. He was the campus golden boy, the one who was not only athletic, but smart and charismatic as well. Boys liked him, girls loved him; he could do no wrong. Myra herself fantasized about him in a distant, hopeless way. Well, thirty odd years after high school ended, Chip is still golden. He’s successful, still attractive, still magnetic, but now he has a little problem. He has a brain tumor, and there’s not much the doctors can do about it. So he rules out further debilitating treatment and comes home to die. Myra is assigned to his case, and when she meets him again, she knows that she still loves him, that she would give anything to be his, even for the short time he’s got left.
This is a story about coming to terms with death, but it is also a story about coming to terms with life. Neither Chip nor Myra has ever married, and though they are both quite admired, in different ways, they have arranged their lives so that they will not be vulnerable, either to other people or to love. So they both have something to learn and something to give. In some ways Chip is not amazingly likable. He’s skated by on his looks and charisma for years and has become rather self-centered. But this last journey of self-discovery makes him face things he’s never had to before, and his real love and respect for Myra redeemed him in my eyes.
One of the wonderful things about this book was its secondary characters. Since the one element of joy in Myra’s life is her patients, we spend quite a bit of time with them. They are a wide spectrum of people, and several of them are a hoot. Watching shy, insecure Myra stand up to and interact with DeWitt, a hardened ghetto drug dealer, was both hilarious and touching. Her other patients were just as well drawn.
Berg’s prose is so lush and beautiful that it was a joy to read. Her use of metaphor was particularly lovely and affecting. Somehow she took what could have been a very depressing subject, death, and made her book into an affirmation of life. Her description of the minutiae of life – both good and bad, made me want to sit up and take better notice of it, to reflect on the beauty of the everyday.
Never Change was just a superb read, funny and poignant at the same time with a well-drawn and fully fleshed out cast of characters. If you’re looking for something thoughtful as well as touching, I’d pick up a copy of this book today.