Betta Nolan stops running when she reaches Stewart, Illinois. Actually, she has been driving for days, fleeing Boston after her husband dies of liver cancer, in search of their shared dream of making a new life in some unknown little town. To explore other ways of living, to leave behind his psychiatry practice and her career of writing children's books, and find something altogether different to do has now become her private duty. Single-mindedly, she seeks to carry out his last wish: for her even in sorrow especially in sorrow to find joy. It's a tall order. Stewart turns out to be just right for the project, but Betta threatens to founder until she reconnects with three old college friends with whom she had lost contact during her marriage. Along with new local friends, including the young boy next door and his struggling single mother, they help to reconnect her to all the small blessings that life can offer. (See her celebration of small-town alleys early on in the book for a delightful example.) Elizabeth Berg has written 12 previous novels, including several bestsellers and an Oprah's Book Club selection (Open House). Reminiscent of Anne Tyler, she deals with middle-class realities and works toward hopeful rather than happy endings. Bulging with insights ( so much of grieving was holding things at bay ), and savory with clear-sighted humor ( sometimes sorrow was a complex form of aggravation ), The Year of Pleasures is perhaps improbably sunny for our time. The modern reader's cynicism drops its guard only gradually, but the rewards are worth the vulnerability. Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.

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