review: Marla Cantrell
Elizabeth Berg | Random House | 218 pages | $26
As the novel opens, Arthur Truluv, eighty-five years old, is grieving the loss of his wife, Nola, who died six months before. Each day at lunchtime, he takes the bus to the cemetery, walks to her plot, and talks to her while he eats his midday meal.
Arthur is not morose. Rather, he tells Nola what’s going on at home. How their cat, Gordon, is doing, for instance. As he passes the other graves, he often stops, and when he does, he can hear the stories of those buried there: who they were, what they loved, what did them in.
The cemetery, Arthur thinks, is a palace of stories.
One day, he notices a teen girl named Maddy who comes to the cemetery on her lunch break from school. She is wildly unpopular with her classmates, a condition she attributes to losing her mother when she was only a few weeks old.
Arthur and Maddy become friends. Maddy loves Arthur’s devotion to his wife, the way he listens during conversations, the way he seems to weigh what Maddy says as evenly as if she were an adult.
Arthur thinks Maddy could use a true friend, that she’s due a break in life, that she hides her broken heart inside her tough exterior.
Not long after the two meet, Maddy finds herself in need of a place to stay, and Arthur takes her in. His equally elderly next-door neighbor, Lucille, a loud woman with big opinions and an even bigger heart, joins the two at Arthur’s house, forming a kind of ramshackle family.
As the story unfurls, so much of what’s broken in each of the three characters gets fixed. Lucille blossoms in a household where she’s needed and wanted. Arthur finds purpose again, helping Maddy navigate her troubled life. And Maddy gets to live in a place where she’s adored.
As I write this, I know how it sounds. The Story of Arthur Truluv seems like a simple story that ends happily. But it’s so much more. It shows us how spectacular everyone’s life is, no matter who we are, no matter what our circumstances. This book gives us a hero, an eighty-five-year-old hero with so much bravery and tenderness, I think you’ll fall a little bit in love with him.
I know I did. As soon as I finished, I started the book again. I had spent the week saturated in news that nearly felled me. And I wasn’t ready to give up these characters, so real and kind that I wanted to live in their world a little longer.
Author Elizabeth Berg is a genius at taking what’s ordinary and illuminating it so that we can see the dazzle beneath. A whole universe unfolds in The Story of Arthur Truluv. On the surface, it seems rather mundane, but when Berg is finished, the light of Heaven shines all the way through it.
If you’re in need of a story of hope right now, pick up this book. It will make your heart sing.