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Open House by Elizabeth Berg
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Open House (edition 2000)

by Elizabeth Berg

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2,246472,855 (3.45)19
Member:writestuff
Title:Open House
Authors:Elizabeth Berg
Info:Random House (2000), Paperback, 241 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Women's Fiction

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Open House by Elizabeth Berg

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This is another of those Oprah Book Club selections that lacks substance.

Samantha Morrow is a middle-aged upper class woman whose husband David leaves her after 20 years of marriage. A stay-at-home mother (for 11-year-old Travis), she has made little effort to have a life outside her family; she seems to have only one friend. For financial reasons, she decides she needs to take in lodgers – a 78-year-old woman, a depressed university student, and a gay hair stylist. These three people, and a neighbour who befriends her, help her create a new life.

Sam was my problem with the book. She is a very unlikeable character so it is difficult to have any sympathy for her. She has a good life despite the fact that her marriage has fallen apart; even money does not seem to be a real issue. Certainly, her marriage breakdown does not have the catastrophic consequences many women experience. Furthermore, she is so self-absorbed, so self-centred, and so full of self-pity. All she does is whine. Her friend tells her, “’I don’t feel sorry for a victim who keeps choosing to be a victim. That’s what you’re doing. You’re not even trying. You’re just sinking deeper into feeling sorry for yourself.’” This is a perfect description of her and, as a result, she comes across as just pathetic.

Sam is also such a shallow person. She tells Travis about the divorce (after stupidly telling David she wanted to do it) but, instead of worrying about the impact of the news on her son, she frets about halitosis because her breath smells “of garlic for three days after she eats it,” about gray hair “popping out all over my head”, about cellulite, and about snoring. She constantly comments on other people’s appearances.

The book is full of stereotypes. It is a black woman who begs on the street (though she has a “lovely face); Sam’s employer at a laundromat is a Chinese man with “tea-coloured teeth” who speaks in broken English; it is a black man, whose “eyes are bloodshot,” who comes into the laundromat with a blaring boom box (though he is “handsome”); and the third lodger is a flamboyantly gay hair dresser who describes himself as “’a walking cliché’” and when faced with danger says, “’We need a man in the house!’”

The theme is anything but complex. Samantha has to learn to appreciate the simple things. And that message is repeated several times by several people: Samantha thinks, “I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries. . . . This is the time in my life to do other things. . . . All right: the red against the blue, the sound of the birds in the morning. The sugar smell in bakeries. The smoothness of fabric moving under my hands into the teeth of the sewing machine. The movement of the ocean, the break of light every morning, every morning.” And King says, “’I want to be appreciative of all that’s here, in a normal life. I want to keep finding out about the things I see around me.’” And Sam’s mother says, “’I think most young people today are so focused on tomorrow they forget all about today.’”
The plot is predictable. It is obvious, from the first introduction of a character, that he will be Sam’s next romantic interest. And that man is just too good to be true, a total contrast to the man who Sam says “almost” date-raped her. The ending is just so optimistic and sentimental, exactly what the reader expects.

I wish I had not gone to this Open House.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Jun 30, 2016 |
I've had mixed success with the author and this was one of the mediocre reads. Sam's husband walks out on her and their 11yo son. She's never worked, and is at loose ends over what to do and how to feel. To afford the mortgage, she takes in boarders - some lovely and some quite odd. And embarks upon a romance with the guy that moved one on the roommates into her home. ( )
  nancynova | Mar 2, 2016 |
When David decides to leave Sam, Sam does the "logical" thing - she goes shopping and spends $12,000 at Tiffany's. Eventually she awakens from her most feared nightmare and begins to live her life for herself rather than for her husband. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 26, 2016 |
main character was so helpless and unlikeable. Overall, poor character developement, very little plot and whiny. A women is suddenly left with by her husband to raise their 11 yr old boy. She deals with finding herself again. ( )
  micahmom2002 | Jan 25, 2016 |
main character was so helpless and unlikeable. Overall, poor character developement, very little plot and whiny. A women is suddenly left with by her husband to raise their 11 yr old boy. She deals with finding herself again. ( )
  micahmom2002 | Jan 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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Elizabeth Bergprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baker, BeckyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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You know before you know, of course. You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets and the knowledge walks up your backbone. You star at the man you love and you are staring at nothing: he is gone before he is gone.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345435168, Paperback)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, August 2000: The narrator of Elizabeth Berg's Open House calls divorce "a series of internal earthquakes ... one after the other." She ought to know. Samantha is abandoned by her husband in the opening pages of this three-handkerchief special, and the resultant tremors keep her off-balance for most of the novel. There are practical problems aplenty, of course, including a shortage of money and an 11-year-old son to raise. But Sam's sense of emotional bereavement is far worse, despite the fact that her husband had been giving her the conjugal cold shoulder for years:
I miss David so much, yes I do, I miss the presence of another person in my bed at night, even if he doesn't touch me; the reliability of someone else being there in the morning, even if they only shave and stare straight ahead into the mirror while you lean against the bathroom doorjamb with your cup of coffee, chatting hopefully.
The loneliness in her "as constant and as irrefutable" as circulating blood, Sam begins to rebuild her life. She finds herself a job and takes in a couple of boarders to help meet her mortgage payments. (One of them, a depressed student named Lavender Blue, informs her that "life was nothing but one major disappointment after the other"--the sort of homily that Sam is understandably reluctant to hear these days.) She also starts dating, with disastrous results. Yet this comically kvetching heroine does manage to find love in the ruins, and by the time Open House winds down, it's hard not to believe that she's much better off. Throughout, Berg alternates her snappy and sappy registers like a real pro. And the conclusion, which most readers will be able to spot a mile off, seems just right--the light at the end of the post-matrimonial tunnel. --Anita Urquhart

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:00 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Samantha's husband has left her, and, after a spree of overcharging at Tiffany's, she settles down to reconstruct a life for herself and her eleven-year-old son.

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