Thirty-six-year-old Patty Murphy has waited patiently for her husband and children. Unfortunately her patience has not paid off. Patty is essentially a homemaker disguised as an unmarried real estate salesperson, a distinction she would not deny. As the narrator of Elizabeth Berg's latest novel, Until the Real Thing Comes Along, Patty makes these points perfectly clear within the first few pages.

She readily admits that she has, in her two years at Rodman Real Estate, managed to sell one house (which happened to sell for $3.2 million). Despite her less-than-ambitious career, she enjoys the real estate business; her desire to be a wife and mother, however, overshadows any joy that she receives from showing houses. As Patty's story unravels, the reader/confidante is taken through a maze of scenarios and reflections that center around a fictitious husband and a multitude of make-believe children.

Patty has known since the sixth grade who would make the perfect husband and father: Ethan Allen Gaines. She and Ethan are very close, and have even been engaged. Their engagement was broken when Ethan confessed that he is homosexual. The good news is, they have remained good friends, though the relationship is often frustrated by Patty's lingering love and blind hope that Ethan is simply going through a phase.

Two things that both Patty and Ethan desire are the right man and many children. And since neither have any prospects in either area, they decide to have a child themselves. Though Patty's pregnancy does not match the daydreams that had danced in her head for 36 years, she is happy with their decision . . . right? Factored into the Patty Murphy equation are an elderly couple whose days are numbered, a love her/hate her beautiful best friend, and two worried parents. And while Patty's encounters with each character are amusing, there is an underlying, inexplicable sadness that tends to permeate each relationship. This sadness culminates when Patty discovers that her mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Amid these trials of life, Patty begins to focus on what the real thing actually is. A self-proclaimed runner-up in the pageant of life, Patty realizes that perhaps the real thing includes loving someone or something despite itself. Because of itself, actually. A warm-hearted story that gently offers insight rather than answers, Until the Real Thing Comes Along would especially appeal to those who have survived loss and crisis.

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