Monday, June 7, 2021

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted (And Other Small Acts of Liberation) - Elizabeth Berg

Summary:  Every now and then, right in the middle of an ordinary day, a woman kicks up her heels and commits a small act of liberation.  What would you do if you could shed the "shoulds" and do, say --and eat--whatever you really desired?  Go AWOL from Weight Watchers and spend an entire day eating every single thing you want?  Start a dating service for people over fifty to reclaim the razzle-dazzle in your life -- or your marriage?  Seek comfort in the face of aging, look for love in the midst of loss, find friendship in the most surprising of places?  In these beautiful, funny stories, Elizabeth Berg takes us into the heart of the lives of women who do all these things and more -- confronting their true feelings, desires, and joys along the way.  (Summary from book - Image from pinterest.com)

My Review: The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted (And Other Small Acts of Liberation) is a collection of fourteen short stories by best-selling author Elizabeth Berg.  I have read countless Berg novels, but for some crazy reason, our archives only hold one review.  If you are interested in reading more of her work, you can head over to my review of Home Safe, where I list the titles I've read and all the reasons I love her novels.  

It probably says a lot about me that I found the above summary insanely appealing.  Lately, I have realized that I have spent much of my life adhering to a rather extensive list of behavioral expectations I have set for myself -- shoulds, if you will.  The summary resonated so strongly with me that I fully expected the stories to as well.  Long story short -- some of them did (3).  Most of them didn't (11).  They are incredibly well written, but only a few made me feel the way that I am used to feeling when I read Berg's writing.  I could sit here and dissect every story, but I'd rather just talk about the ones that hit home.  So, here we go...

Double Diet follows Marsha and Tom, married empty-nesters who are finally starting to acknowledge the pitfalls of aging.  Initially, Marsha is trying to diet on her own with very little success.  She asks for Tom's help to keep her on track and he does a fairly abysmal job.  When they decide to diet together , Tom excels at his own diet and Marsha still struggles. I won't go into a lot of personal detail, but there was a lot about this story that rang true in my own life.  It isn't necessarily the parts that you would think, but, boy oh boy, did I feel it.

Truth or Dare is about a group of three relatively new friends, Joyce, Trudy, and Laura, who are all 50-something, divorced, and live alone, but meet together for weekly dinners where they have found both solace and camaraderie.  When the subject of old boyfriends comes up in conversation, they challenge each other to reconnect with a past flame, just to see how they are doing, and then report back at the next weekly dinner.  Each woman has their own story to tell when they return, and I felt like I was sitting at the table with them, laughing riotously and enjoying their adventures.  I am neither 50-something nor divorced, but I have good friends like these, and though we are currently hundreds and even thousands of miles apart in some cases, I long to sit around the table with them and have those similar moments.    

Sin City was my favorite story in the entire book (though it was neck-and-neck with Truth or Dare).  It's about a woman named Rita, a 61-year old widow from Minnesota who decides to spend some of the money she's been saving her whole life and fly to Las Vegas for a few days.  At the airport she meets a man with whom she shares a surprising connection, even if everything she tells him about herself is a complete fabrication.  There is more to the story than a slightly duplicitous meet-cute and it holds surprising insight about love, parenting, and breaking the pattern of self-denial that women all too often embrace.  Oh, and there's a cute ending, to boot.

At 41-years-old, I am just beginning to relate to the perils of aging (be they aging bodies, aging children, or aging relationships).  I don't like cramming books or people into pigeon holes, but I am not sure if these stories will appeal to the average 20-40-year-old quite as much as they will with the 40+ age group.  Of course, I don't know that they were really meant to either.  According to the summary, each story in the book allegedly shares a common thread -- a moment when an ordinary woman in an ordinary day "kicks up her heels and commits a small act of liberation.  Although I love the concept, I couldn't always identify those moments in each story.  However, they did generate a plethora of emotions.  Even though I didn't connect with all the stories in the book, it would be fascinating to sit around a table (Truth or Dare style) and discuss what other women of different ages and situations gleaned from each story.  In that way, I do think that it would make for an interesting book club selection.    

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: A few handfuls of profanity (of all varieties) and some sexual subject matter (more vague recollections rather than in-progress events).

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