The Pull of the Moon
by Elizabeth Berg

Ballantine Books (Random House Reader's Circle), 2010. ISBN 978-0-345-51217-8.
Reviewed by Susan Ideus
Posted on 07/15/2010

Fiction: Mainstream

The Pull of the Moon is a coming-of-age novel for a fifty-year old woman, Nan.

The main character in the story (actually the only active character) is Nan. She narrates her story using two points of view—her entries in a new journal and her letters to her husband Martin. As a writer and a journal keeper myself, I found this not only an interesting way to approach the narration; I also wanted to see if it worked. It did.

Here's the premise: Nan ran away from home.

"Beside me I have a turquoise journal, tooled leather, held closed by a thin black strap wrapped around a silver button. I bought it the day before I left. Normally, that kind of thing would not appeal to me. But it seemed I had to have it. I opened it, looked at the unlined pages, closed it back up and bought it. It was far too expensive, forty dollars, but it seemed to me to be capable of giving me something I'd pay more for. I thought, I'm going to buy this journal and then I'm going to run away. And that's what I did."

This was the heart of her first letter to Martin; she wrote to him every night of her journey. She had the idea he might "hear" her better if he had to concentrate on reading her words, so she didn't phone him at all. It wasn't that he ignored her exactly, but he perhaps, after so many years, had a way of tuning her out.

She had never before kept a journal, but found it suited her as well as her letters to Martin—oh, not that she wrote the same things in the journal and the letters. Oh, never that! To her journal, she writes: "I bought this black pen for you. I feel shy saying this, as though we are friends too new to exchange anything without it being important." She wrote feelings, memories, stories, epiphanies, and recorded conversations. She later remarked to her journal "you're the place I can just let things spill out."

She had no agenda, no map for her trip. To say she was out to find herself seems trite, but in truth, she was doing just that. She was disenchanted with her life, scared of growing old and of losing even more of herself, and tired of doing things for no reason other than "We flowered in the sixties, but the spirit of the fifties was deep in us." The former hippies were living a life of worn tradition and boredom, as had their parents before them.

Nan talked to women she encountered along her journey and found that they felt much the same way—that they were missing some important element in their lives, but mostly they were too tired or too bogged down in circumstances to do anything about it. From each woman, she learned more about herself, and her letters and journal entries reflect her growth of self-confidence and self-knowledge. She began to sense what it was that she needed from herself and her marriage; and she conveys this to Martin by way of her letters. Nan is portrayed as emotional but not weak and needy, although at times, she saw herself that way; her strength was manifest in her decision to search for her own truth. She never laid the blame for her quandary at Martin's door, and she made sure he knew that. This was her rite of discovery.

This is an honest look at a woman "of a certain age," obviously written by someone who has deep understanding and experience. Berg will have the reader laughing and crying over the same event, so keen is her empathy. It's plain she's been there or somewhere close—from the first chin hair to the anger that the hair stylist just doesn't get it. Nan's soliloquy is sure to touch the heart and sensibilities of any woman who has reached the age of fifty.

A former registered nurse, Elizabeth Berg lives in Chicago with her "excellent dog, Homer," and her cat Gracie. Her writing career began when she won a Parents' magazine essay contest, and she wrote for magazines for 10 years before her 1993 novel debut, Durable Goods. Since then, she has written many more novels and several nonfiction works, has been on bestsellers' lists numerous times, and has had her books translated into twenty-six languages. Find out more on her website.

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