The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier
Crown Publishing Group, 309 Pages
US Release Date: June 5, 2012
Format: Finished Copy
Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours (thank you Crown & TLC!)
Purchase: Amazon | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble
Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.
Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew.
The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage.
The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died.
Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.
The single greatest point of interest about a woman's thirty-eight years was not what she had done, but what she hadn't told anyone she'd done.
As the daughter of a military man, I'll readily admit that sometimes my world view can be narrow despite a long list of world I've seen. My life revolved around my father's job and the military and the role they play, so it's natural for me to consider a Post-9/11 world in those terms. I think of war, lost sons and daughters, fighting, deployment, security codes and colours. But The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D opened up an entirely new world in the Post-9/11 word to me: the one of a person not directly involved, but still wholly affected. A world filled with scary news, horrifying tactics, the constant reminder of vulnerability and the question of protection, not prevention.
I'm going to be upfront about this: I'm not the target audience for this book. I'm not a mother, a wife, an East Coast suburban woman. I don't have a sister, I don't know the struggles of family, marriage, juggling a career with kids. And for that purpose, I had a hard time getting into the book. I'm at a completely different point in my life and have no experience with most of the situations in the book, which made it difficult for me to relate. What little parts I could were difficult because I felt my personality was so different from Kate. She's measured, a bit brash and a lot quiet. The way she approaches relationships, partnerships and her life is completely different from the way I do. It was frustrating for a lot of the book, because I would have handled so many things differently than she does. I also felt like Kate was quite cynical and negative, which was bothersome.
Despite my lack of connection to Kate and our differences, I can still recognize the value of the story. This one is strong. It's sad, and raw, and I applaud Nichole Bernier for confronting those feelings we're not only afraid to admit to, but feel guilty to have. There were times my heart went out for her, like a friend going through a hard time that I wanted to hug; and there were times I could feel her fear. A lot of the time I hated how much she let the news affect her, but I can see that a lot of people will share her feelings.
I did enjoy the slow reveal about Elizabeth and getting to see her real life unfold within the context of how Kate knew her. It really makes you think about how much and how closely you can possibly know a person, since what you're seeing is what has been given to you. We take for granted that what we see is what we get, even though most of us know how untrue that is. Just consider yourself - how many people see every facet of you? What do you hide from someone, and why? They're difficult questions to confront, and I think Nichole Bernier did it wonderfully.
If you're looking for a strong novel about friendship, family and relationships, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is for you. It'll make you feel and cry; it'll make you cherish what you have; it may make you see the world a bit differently. Most of all, you'll find the courage to examine what's presented and hidden, what's been offered and concealed for what reasons, and most of all, the 'why.'
3.5 Stars / 5
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Nichole Bernier is author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men's Journal. A 14-year contributing editor for Conde Nast Traveler, she was previously on staff as the magazine's golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She received her master's degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and is one of the founders of the literary blog Beyond the Margins. Nichole lives outside Boston with her husband and five children.
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(Bio via Amazon)