The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg


Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors and when I accidentally found her Christmas story, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, it seemed the perfect companion as I listened to Christmas carols and sat before the burning logs on my television screen on Christmas Eve.  Berg’s cadence lends a Biblical tone to the well-known tale, but her modern explanations would probably scandalize Sister Eugene Marie, IHM.

Although the good sisters in my Catholic upbringing urged belief without question, Berg frames the character of Mary as one who questions Joseph, authority, everything – a budding teenager with a zest for life and an affinity for herbs and plants.  Sixteen year old Joseph is not thrilled to learn of her pregnancy, but marries her anyway.  He seems not as convinced of angel intervention as Mary, although Berg supplies a scene with Mary and a stranger that offers an alternative reality. The romance blossoms into a fruitful marriage, with many more children after the auspicious birth of their Son.

Alternating between Mary and Joseph, Berg keeps to the traditional story, offering their inner thoughts and fears, but always carefully and reverently maintaining the Biblical references.  I read the book in a few hours and enjoyed the peaceful feeling it left with me.

Reviews of Other Books By Elizabeth Berg:

Tapestry of Fortunes

After finishing Claire Messud’s stark story of loneliness and betrayal, I needed a 9780812993141_p0_v1_s260x420reaffirmation of the human spirit, and who better than Elizabeth Berg – one of my guilty pleasures – with her latest tale of friendship and happy endings in Tapestry of Fortunes.

The framework resembles Kris Radish’s Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, but this time the road trip of four friends seeks to bury old lives rather than a body.  Cece Ross has come to a midlife crisis after her best friend Penny dies; unsatisfied with her life as a motivational speaker and writer of self-help books, Cece decides to sell her house, move in with three strangers, and rekindle the true love of her youth. As part of her renewal, she volunteers at a hospice and befriends a dying young man and his fiancee.

The road trip forces all the women (Cece’s new roommates) to face their fears, and make changes in their lives – with the help of fortune telling cards.  All ends well, of course, with Cece reunited with her love, and the others resolving their own issues.

If you are a fan of Berg, you will know the story before it begins, and connect with her thoughtful notes:

“…someone who drives past a house she used to live in and finds it changed feels it in the gut.”

“…I hate this yin-yang life that is always pulling the rug out from beneath your feet…{but} when you lose something…there is room for the next thing.”

” It only needs a small quantity of hope to beget love.” Stendhal

And her reminders of authors to reread:

More Elizabeth Berg books:

  1. Once Upon A Time There Was You
  2. The Last Time I Saw You

Once Upon a Time There Was You – Elizabeth Berg

“You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it
You gave me your love but I misused it
 I never knew how lonely loneliness could be…”


Divorce is hard, but being alone is harder in Elizabeth Berg’s Once Upon a Time There Was You.  Irene and John wait to get married; then both almost flee on their wedding day.  For eight years, they have a life with their daughter Sadie before divorcing.  Ten years later, Sadie finds herself juggling her parents’ feelings for each other, as she shuffles back and forth between their lives and tries to assert her own independence.  When she survives a rogue abduction, Sadie inadvertently offers her parents a reason to reconnect.

With Elizabeth Berg, it’s more about the people than their stories; more about how what’s going on inside their heads is relatable to the reader; more introspection than action.  Berg does not attempt solutions.

“Some {people} walk purposefully, sure of where they are going.  Some walk aimlessly, in no hurry to get anywhere. Others are frankly lost.”

The story gets a little lost in all the soul-searching, but, as always, Berg offers poignant moments.

Related Review: Elizabeth Berg’s “The Last Time I Saw You”

The Last Time I Saw You

High school reunions can be cathartic or catastrophic – depending on expectations.  In The Last Time I Saw You, Elizabeth Berg follows a group of anxious revelers at their fortieth reunion in an examination at how assumptions can skew perceptions of others’ lives.

As always, Berg is an easy read, with surprises to spice up the plot.  Her characters never fall into stereotypes, but she teases you with that possibility as she starts her story with old high school gossiping and rivalries.  Instead, Berg develops her story into a realistic and touching view of lives as they deal with universal problems.

The grass is always greener, and the characters are not who they seem to their classmates;  all are dealing with their inner demons.  Candy, the class beauty and envy of all the girls has just been diagnosed with cancer; Dorothy, another in the popular crowd, has had her self-confidence shattered in her divorce;  Pete, the class heart throb and philanderer, is trying to win back his wife; Lester, a widower and veterinarian, is lonely.  As they play “the game of truth,” as part of the reunion festivities, aging revelers are forced to face each other’s anxieties as well as their own, and Berg’s observations offer an inside view of how her characters cope.

A thoughtful read, with a little soap opera quality, The Last Time I Saw You, ends with everyone finding out more about themselves – maybe even the reader.

Books to Read When You Are Snowbound

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil saw no shadow –  Spring is around the corner – maybe.

Authors I can cozy up to – whatever the weather…


Elizabeth Berg –  The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted: And Other Small Acts of Liberation –  a book of short essays.  The title essay is the first and funniest, but they will all give you a good laugh and permission to enjoy the comfort you need – whether or not you can get out.

Catherine Coulter –  historical romances: usually a tall handsome Duke who pursues and eventually marries a feisty heroine.  Any title will do – they are pretty much the same –  but Rosehaven tops the list.