Durable Goods
Elizabeth Berg
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Durable Goods
Elizabeth Berg
Ballantine Books
224 pages
May 2003
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The story begins with Katie Nash hiding under her bed to avoid a beating when the toilet overflows. It is Katie's fault, but she allows her eighteen-year old sister, Diane, to take the brunt of their father's wrath. The girls live alone with their father on an Army base; it hasn't been long since their mother died of cancer. The stage is set for a battle of wills. Diane is ready to leave the nest, finding no comfort in their home but reluctant to abandon her younger sister.

This is a transitional period for the thirteen-going-on-fourteen-year-old Katie; her days are filled with typical adolescent angst and a yearning for the presence of a mother in her young life. The sisters manage a delicate emotional balance, avoiding their father, who has a volatile temper and frequently lashes out at his daughters. Unprovoked violence is nothing new in the Nash family. He took out his aggression on his daughters even when the mother was alive.

Rage is a fact of life in their home, the family constantly preoccupied with appeasing him, but especially poignant because the motherís death leaves each of them hollow with grief. Katie's best friend lives next door, a girl two years older who guides Katie through female mysteries and rituals as defined by glossy magazines and their endless grooming tips to ensure success with the opposite sex.

Katie has begun a solitary journey of self-discovery that is made more piquant by the one-sided conversations she has with her mother. When the sisters face a fateful decision, it is tempered by Katie's shifting loyalties, given her vulnerability and immaturity. Grasping the familiar, Katie attempts a new perspective on letting go and the chimerical nature of loss, instinctively understanding that some things stay even when they've gone.

Berg's plain-spoken narrative navigates Katie's adolescent passage into the real world, where even forgiveness is possible and change hovers on the horizon. The simple prose belies the enormous impact of grief and the complications of growing up, the profound juxtaposed with the mundane.

If Durable Goods has a flaw, it is a dissonance in the father's character, his habitual violence contrasted with his almost passive acceptance of the changes wrought by his daughters. That Katie clings to her father is natural enough, but his brutality is a reality. The author opens this door on the first page, but avoids the elephant in the living room when Katie opts to stay with her father, the victim returning willingly to her abuser, desperate for any emotional connection in lieu of none at all. Grief is no excuse: is the brute not still a brute?

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2005

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