Say When by Elizabeth Berg

say whenGriffin’s wife, Ellen, decides to take a course in basic auto mechanics.  After coming home from her first class, she tells Griffin that the teacher is “so well-spoken, and he’d walked into the classroom carrying a pile of books he’d just bought – hardback!”  Ellen was impressed that the man’s pile of books included a novel by Balzac, which was hardly what she expected him to be reading.

On a lazy Sunday morning six months later, Ellen says to Griffin, “Oh, I don’t know how to do this! Look, I’m… Okay, I’ll just say this: I’m in love with someone.  And I…want a divorce.  I’m sorry.”  Although Griffin has already realized that Ellen is seeing the auto mechanic, her brief statement leaves him numb.  Both he and she are very concerned about the effect of her decision on their eight-year-old daughter, Zoe, whom – somehow – they must tell about the momentous coming change in her life.

As he struggles to cope with Ellen’s announcement, Griffin takes a part-time job as a Santa at a nearby mall and tries dating.  Since he is the book’s narrator, readers see the situation from the male point of view.

A review in The Boston Herald calls Say When “[a] novel of domestic upheaval anchored in homely detail.”  Berg’s use of detail appealed to me, as did my feeling that I was in the room with the characters.  Her writing sometimes reminds me of the novels of another favorite author of mine – Anne Tyler.

Several years ago, I read Berg’s novel The Year of Pleasures, which describes a woman’s gradual healing during her first year as a widow; I recommend that book as well.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


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