Once Upon A Time There Was You by Elizabeth Berg

Once Upon a Time There Was You by Elizabeth Berg

Once Upon a Time There Was You by Elizabeth Berg


From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of Home SafeandThe Last Time I Saw You comes a beautiful and moving novel about a man and woman, long divorced, who rediscover the power of love and family in the midst of an unthinkable crisis.

Even on their wedding day, John and Irene sensed that they were about to make a mistake. Years later, divorced, dating other people, and living in different parts of the country, they seem to have nothing in common—nothing except the most important person in each of their lives: Sadie, their spirited eighteen-year-old  daughter. Feeling smothered by Irene and distanced from John, Sadie is growing more and more attached to her new boyfriend, Ron.
When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together to support the daughter they love so dearly. What takes longer is to remember how they really feel about each other.

Elizabeth Berg has once again created characters who embody the many shades of the human spirit. Reading Berg’s fiction allows us to reflect on our deepest emotions, and her gifts as a writer make Once Upon a Time, There Was You a wonderful novel about the power of love, the unshakeable bonds of family, and the beauty of second chances.

With humor, empathy, honesty and a voice that rings truer than your own, Elizabeth Berg captures the way women think and explores issues that affect everyone’s life in her latest novel, ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS YOU. In this novel we are introduced to John and Irene Marsh, a long-divorced couple living in separate states and their 18-year-old daughter Sadie. When tragedy strikes, John and Irene are brought back together and forced to explore what went wrong.

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS YOU has all the trademarks of a classic Berg novel but with a slight veer off course into a heart-pounding suspense when Sadie faces a terrifying event. As Irene and John come to grips with the frightening occurrences, they each examine the dissolution of their marriage, their relationship together and their roles as parents to the precocious and strong-willed Sadie.

I loved both John and Irene more for their flaws, and the attention to the details of their flaws, than anything else. Like real families, I could see parts of both of them in their daughter, Sadie. Typically, in a novel, I want things to be happening all the time, surprises around every corner, major action to keep me flipping the pages. But with Berg’s novels, I find myself wanting to spend days inside the minds of her characters. I want to know their worries, fears, frustrations and insecurities. I want to linger in their idiosyncrasies, and try to understand what makes them tick and why. Because what I learn and discover about her characters through the pages of a novel often leads to my own learning and discovering of little idiosyncrasies about myself. It’s comforting to know that we are all very similar when it comes down to the small details – and the small details are what make life interesting. I loved the emotional exploration in ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS YOU. I loved the thoughts and worries and fears of this family because they were so real and authentic. The only thing I didn’t like was seeing the story come to an end. As always, I can’t wait for the next Elizabeth Berg novel!

One of my favorite passages from the novel comes when Irene is filling out a profile for an online dating site. You can read her posting below:

I believe in defacing books. I think one’s personal library should be full of books with broken spines and meaningful passages underlined, with pages marked by chocolate or coffee or grease stains. If there are comments or questions in the margins, even better. I am otherwise a very neat person, as I believe that external chaos leads to internal chaos. Discuss. I believe in going to cafes in the afternoon and enjoying pastry on a porcelain plate, even if it ruins your dinner. This is a bit of an affectation, I suppose, as I only began doing it after I visited Paris and saw all of them doing it. “Them” being the French, of course, and who among us does not trust the French when it comes to food and fashion?

I believe in bringing home rocks from every place I visited and loved, becuase I think rocks hold with them an essence of place, and that you cna feel this essence – and therefore the place – if you hodl the rock tightly in your hand. Naturally you must have patiences, as well as an open mind and heart, and, like many spiritual things, it works better if your eyes are closed.

No. She deletes this last paragraph, then continues.

I believe in keeping my eyes closed at the dentist’s and imagining Tahiti even though I have never been there. But I have seen pictures, and every time I go to the dentist I imagine me in those pictures with the blue, blue sea and the waves coming in. (As a kid I had a dentist who gave every patient a card for a free Dairy Queen cone after each visit. Devil or angel? I still can’t decide.) I will never be thin again and I am interested in meeting a man who is just fine with that. Not that I’m fat. But I am average, and average is not thin. Average to zaftig. I guess would be more precise, and I still have very good legs if you care about that sort of thing, which I do. I believe in holding hands in the movie show when all the lights are low, and if you know and like that song, we’re already off to a good start. I kind of hate writing these things, as I’m sure you can tell, but I understand and accept the need for them.

Definitely read ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS YOU, I promise it will stay with you long after you finish the last page.


The Greats

thayer allyson gowdy

There is nothing as wonderful as getting lost in a book, becoming completely absorbed by the words written across a milky page. Sometimes I can get so lost in a book, so head-over-heels in love with the characters, that when tragedy strikes, I am as devastated by the loss as if it were real. Why, when life is always handing us lemons, do we insist on breaking our hearts with the make believe? Should we avoid stories that will ultimately leave us drowning in tears, or immerse ourselves in them fully? Will they help us better understand our own lives and perhaps see the lights shining brighter than before? Will they prepare us for an experience? Will they enrich our lives and make us stronger? If not, then why bother?

It is an incredible trust we put in the hands of writers. We pray that the path they have created for us is one that we can follow safely and come out at the end better for it. Not all writers are as capable, some can sucker punch us and leave us winded and wondering what went wrong. How could we have not seen this coming? Writers ask us to place our trust in their words, our heart in their pages and come into the world they created with an open mind. If they write from a pure, honest place, without an agenda or a formula, we follow them willingly. Many writers try but only few succeed. This summer, honor the writers who write with the purity of their art and the honesty of their soul.

Alice Munroe, Sue Miller, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, John Irving. These are just a few of the greats. Discover them if you haven’t yet, revisit them if you’ve already been there and pass along these gifted writers to friends and family.

{photo credit: Thayer Allyson Gowdy}