Friday, January 27, 2006

The Year of Pleasures

I love Elizabeth Berg, and this book, The Year of Pleasures, does not disappoint. It's about Betta Nolan, a woman in her fifties, whose husband John recently died of cancer. John and Betta were very much in love, so much that they had sort of an insular relationship. They were (if I remember my Vonnegut correctly) a duad, a pod of two people going through life together. Before he died, John encouraged Betta to start a new life.

The key part of that new life is to embark on an adventure alone that she and John had long mulled over doing together. Betta sells her house, packs up the car, and drives off in search of a quaint Midwestern town to start over in. She does just that, finds a beautiful Victorian house, takes a deep breath, and buys it. She also makes an effort to make friends, something that she and John really didn't do- the two of them were enough for each other. Betta calls her old college roommates and reunites with them, but what I really admired her for was allowing herself to make a connection with just about everyone she met. Betta finds companionship in everyone from her real estate agent to the crazy old lady she bought her house from to the kid next door to a college student she met at a coffee shop. I thought that was so cool. Makes you wonder what kinds of people you'd meet if you opened yourself up to anyone and everyone the way Betta did.

Betta also decides to look at the year after John's death not just as a year of mourning, but also as a year of pleasures, of embracing the little things that make life worth living. She makes great meals, the descriptions of which made me hungry. She fills her house with flowers and listens to her favorite music. John, in one of his final moments, gave her a beautiful box filled with little slips of paper with words or phrases on them. They're John's suggestions to her, again, small things to think about and embrace in life. One of them says "gingerbread," and at first Betta has no idea what the significance is. Then she remembers the time she made fresh gingerbread for dessert and commented on how wonderful it would be for breakfast. "Then have it for breakfast," John tells her, but at the time that seemed too indulgent to Betta. In the year of pleasures, she learns to indulge things like that. Betta also opens a store called What A Woman Wants that sells all kinds of beautiful little indulgences. Nice scented soaps, thick warm slippers, spools of satin ribbon, stunning jewelry. One of her friends insists that she make her customers sign a contract - if you're buying one of these things for yourself, you have to promise to actually use it, not put it away because "it's too nice."

This was a beautiful story that really made me think of the little pleasures that life has to offer.

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