Open House
Elizabeth Berg
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Open House

Elizabeth Berg
Ballantine Books
272 pages
May 2001
rated 2 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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Categorized as "women's fiction," Open House is written for a niche audience, life-lite for those who prefer to read a sad story, but not too sad. One with a happy ending: woman loses self, finds self, meets man, lives happily ever after.

Sam is devastated when her Richard announces that he wants a divorce and immediately runs out to spend her rich husband's money as a panacea for the shock. Then she solves her supposed financial issues by taking in boarders (without checking their references), accepts a series of temporary jobs that pay minimum wage (she has a college degree) and meets lots of nice, friendly folks she never noticed in her wifely role.

On her agonizing journey towards self-discovery, Sam sheds a lot of tears - all for herself - her financial problems apparently addressed by the boarders. If this is a forty-one-year-old woman, she is living in the wrong century. I have no real issue with this book except that there is no challenge for the reader (and I believe that readers like to stretch their imaginations and broaden their horizons, at least on occasion). My real concern is with a plot that perpetuates the stereotype of the helpless damsel in distress, her husband the sole breadwinner (in this case some significant bread). This woman just can't get her silly head around the issues divorced women face.

Of course, there is a man on the horizon, just in time to save the heroine, a kindly, gentle man to whom she constantly turns for help. A college degree is useless, apparently, for this woman is only willing to entertain temporary employment (giving change at a laundromat, wielding a hammer at a construction site, passing out samples at the supermarket) and rents rooms to strangers.

If this is women's fiction, I'll eat my fairy tales. Most divorced women have none of the luxuries this lady enjoys. Most divorced women care for their children and hold fulltime jobs. This helpless victim serves no one's interests and doesn't reflect reality (except in those happily-ever-after fairy tales). I have nothing against escape fiction, but why not offer a protagonist with some guts, instead of this insipid, helpless female? No wonder women aren't taken seriously. What is Rapunzel to do?

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2005

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