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Review: In 'Home Safe' by Elizabeth Berg, sudden loss changes everything

A comfortable marriage, a daughter's close friendship and a successful writing career — Helen Ames' world seemed perfect. Until her husband died suddenly, sliding out of his kitchen chair in front of the sink where Helen stood watching.

Now, in addition to the love of her life, she's lost the mate who held the marriage together, practically speaking. Dan paid the bills; she rolled out piecrusts, deadheaded petunias and wrote bestselling novels. Helen is at a loss for words. She has forgotten how to write.

So the protagonist of Elizabeth Berg's novel Home Safe considers her options. Folding and selling sweaters at Anthropologie? Moving and downsizing? Perhaps she'll rely more on Tessa, the 27-year-old daughter-turned-mother's-handyman. But Tessa is beginning to resent her mother's unannounced stopovers, her gifts of candles and unsolicited advice about washing mascara off before bedtime. It's been a year since the death and most everyone thinks she's stuck, including Helen's best friend, calmly sipping iced tea and telling her to move on.

In the midst of this, Helen discovers that Dan had withdrawn a huge amount from their retirement savings. Now she's left to figure out whether her loyal husband was who he seemed to be.

A call from a stranger changes everything in an instant, and the lyrical unfolding of the story draws us to Helen. As she struggles with this secret, Helen wonders if she's the kind of person who must share the taste of ice cream and the color of the sunset to appreciate them.

Home Safe explores, with insight and humor, what it's like to lose everything and to emerge from the other side graced by a husband's generosity and a daughter's independence. In the end, Helen Ames is "alone but not lonely." And because Berg has written a perfect, plausible survival story, that makes perfect sense.

Augusta Scattergood is a writer and former librarian who lives in St. Pete Beach.

Home Safe

By Elizabeth Berg

Random House, 272 pages, $25

Review: In 'Home Safe' by Elizabeth Berg, sudden loss changes everything 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 11:48am]
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