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. Read more...
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Publisher: Broadway Books$10.64The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. (Large Print Hardcover)
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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.
"I loved this bittersweet novel, which manages to be both a compelling mystery and a wise meditation on friendship, marriage and motherhood in an age of great anxiety. Bernier will have you thinking about her characters long after you've turned the final page."
--J. Courtney Sullivan, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Maine"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-05-21
- Reviewer: Staff
When Elizabeth dies in a plane crash a month before 9/11, her will designates her friend Kate as the recipient of her lifelong journals, in this tepid debut. Kate spends her family vacation during the summer of 2002 reading through Elizabeth's journals, discovering the truth about the woman she thought she had known. Elizabeth's history is full of secrets: a childhood accident, a decision to abandon her artistic studies to care for her mother, her relationship with her husband, and most curiously, the reason she was on that ill-fated August 2001 flight. Other than her time-appropriate anxieties about terrorism and loss, Kate is a pedestrian character, with quiet conflicts about her workaday marriage and thoughts of exchanging motherhood for a return to her career as a pastry chef. As a character, Elizabeth has more potential, but Kate's recaps of important events in Elizabeth's life, interspersed with brief passages from the diaries, feel journalistic and unfinished, like notes from a character study. Moments of beauty and depth of spirit will appeal to readers interested in secrets revealed, but the novel is slow and relies too heavily on introspection. Agent: Julie Barer. (June)
The story a woman leaves behind
Frequent Elle, Cond Nast Traveler and Self contributor Nichole Bernier takes a step away from nonfiction and arrives on the literary scene with an engrossing debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. This exquisite and honest portrait of friendship and motherhood unfurls a suspenseful plot whose jaw-dropping surprise ending is one that readers will be sure to discuss long after the book has been finished.
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. introduces readers to Kate Spenser, a mother balancing her career as a chef while simultaneously processing her grief over the loss of her friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s death in a freak plane accident means Kate has been bequeathed a large stack of journals chronicling Elizabeth’s life. Elizabeth’s instructions request that Kate “start at the beginning” and figure out how best to deal with them once she has finished reading the complete set.
It is with this heavy load that Kate retreats to her vacation rental home on Great Rock Island. While spending the summer with her children, she must decide if she is going to return to the restaurant trenches while also attempting to uncover the secret behind Elizabeth’s request. With an absent, working husband who travels continuously overseas as a hotel scout, Kate becomes more and more immersed in Elizabeth’s confessions, realizing that perhaps she never really knew her friend at all. And what is supposed to be a relaxing summer fills with tension as Elizabeth’s widowed husband pressures Kate to reveal his wife’s secrets, and Kate struggles to uncover what her own husband is hiding from her.
Bernier successfully explores how women manage to balance so much in their everyday life and the complicated emotions (guilt, frustration, fear) that go along with being a working mother. As Kate realizes there is more to Elizabeth than meets the eye, she is given the chance to uncover the truth not only about their friendship but also about herself. The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is an important read for anyone who dares to ask just how well we really know our friends and neighbors, and what those discoveries mean about us.
Read a Q&A with Nichole Bernier about The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D.