Say When
Elizabeth Berg
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Say When
Elizabeth Berg
Washington Square Press
288 pages
April 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Itís the portrait of a perfect family: Joe Griffin, the family man with a well-established career, Ellen, the shy and intelligent homemaker, and Zoe, their spirited eight-year-old daughter. Through extensive and in-depth dialogue on which she has built a successful writing career, author Elizabeth Berg provides a unique insight into this wavering family unit in her newest novel, Say When. In it, Berg examines the parallel and often competing relationships between a husband, a wife, a young daughter, and each personís desire to grow on their own as they grow alongside one another.

After ten years of what seems like marital bliss, Ellen uncharacteristically decides that she is no longer content with her relationship and seeks an immediate and permanent change. With little warning to Griffin, she announces that she has discovered her true love -- something she insists she never had with her husband of more than a decade -- in the arms of Peter, an auto repair mechanic who happens to be a significant number of years her junior. She informs her husband their marriage is beyond repair but mistakenly assumes he will accept her decision, move out of their family home, and allow her to be the primary caretaker for their daughter, Zoe.

In an effort to maintain an equal partnership in the raising of their daughter, the pair somewhat reluctantly decides to live as roommates, alternating nighttime responsibilities for Zoe. Ellen continues her relationship with Peter, (a.k.a., to Griffin, the "greasy paramour"), while her husband makes an effort to fill his nights by becoming a volunteer Santa Claus at a nearby mall. As the inevitable flaws in their living arrangements intensify, Ellen moves in with her newfound love hoping to solidify their relationship. At the same time, Griffin makes a concerted albeit reluctant effort to accept Ellenís decision and eases into the dating scene.

Just as this book explores the relationship between a husband and a wife, it examines the relationship between a young daughter and her parents. The book is infused with sweet and seemingly insignificant incidents that go a surprisingly long way to illustrate the growing pains of the entire family. A wide range of issues are covered, from a fatherís indulgence of her daughterís desire for ice cream sundaes to the point that she becomes physically ill, to a daughterís realization that there may be some things sheíd prefer to discuss with her mom rather than her dad.

Once again, Berg has written a touching story that this time focuses on the struggle of three people committed to making things work but searching for the best way to reach their goal.

© 2003 by Lori West for Curled Up With a Good Book

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