Book Review of “The Story of Arthur Truluv” by Elizabeth Berg.
According to Goodreads this is “a moving novel about three people who find their way back from loss and loneliness to a different kind of happiness. Arthur, a widow, meets Maddy, a troubled teenage girl who is avoiding school by hiding out at the cemetery, where Arthur goes every day for lunch to have imaginary conversations with his late wife, and think about the lives of others. The two strike up a friendship that draws them out of isolation. Maddy gives Arthur the name Truluv, for his loving and positive responses to every outrageous thing she says or does. With Arthur’s nosy neighbor Lucille, they create a loving and unconventional family, proving that life’s most precious moments are sweeter when shared.” Well, I couldn’t have summarized this book better, so let’s leave it at that.
At the outset, I have to admit that I’m (once again) of two minds about this book. In general, I really did enjoy it. Berg’s prose is so gentle and inviting, we cannot help but feel for these characters, while totally understanding their motives and actions. Plus, as the story progresses, Berg builds them so lovingly that it’s almost like watching flowers come into bloom. Furthermore, Berg seems to have an excellent knack for pacing her story so that we never get bored nor feel confused with too many things happening. Berg also constructed a plot that makes good sense, and runs faultlessly from beginning to end. Everything Berg is trying to show here comes through with empathy and care. These include the need people have to feel appreciated, the desire to help others and share our lives with them, and the feeling of being in control while at the same time, having people in our lives we can also depend upon.
One thing I really must commend Berg for is the ending of this novel. In my mind, I can imagine a certain scene that Berg could easily have included here, just before the final chapter. Thankfully, Berg (or her editors) didn’t include that scene, and instead jumped ahead in the story, and allowed the readers to assume this situation. Had it been included, I’m certain it would have lessened the effect of the final chapter, so kudos to Berg and/or her editors for that exclusion.
However, despite all this praise, I still have some reservations about this book. Now, perhaps this might seem unfair but early on in reading this book, I got the distinct feeling that Berg was attempting to mold Arthur into an American version of Ove (as in, from Backman’s debut novel). Yes, Ove is far more curmudgeonly and judgmental than Arthur, and also unlike Ove, he certainly hasn’t given up on life. But there are many versions of the old man who you might not always like, but you can’t help loving them nonetheless. Unfortunately, Arthur isn’t the best example of any of them, since for me, Berg wasn’t able to evoke any strong emotions out of me for Arthur.
Also, it took me a long while to put my finger on why Arthur didn’t move me, and I think the reason was that Arthur was simply too nice, too often, and it didn’t balance well with the smaller incidences of when he was being difficult. That may sound silly, but I have to be honest, and I feel I needed more harshness in Arthur, so that Berg could convince me to fall for him despite his faults. I’m certain that Berg could have done this, since essentially, we learn to love Lucille in exactly that manner, as Berg knew exactly how terribly infuriating she could be, and we still end up adoring her, both because of and despite her many faults. So, although this is a truly warm and heartwarming tale, tenderly written that just flows softly from beginning to end, it will make you smile, but I’m afraid it won’t make you cry. For this, I can still recommend it, and give it a solid four out of five stars.
Random House will release “The Story of Arthur Truluv” by Elizabeth Berg on November 21, 2017. This book is available (for pre-order) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), Kobo audio books (USA, Canada & Australia), eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.