Three '40s sisters
write letters to soldiers and
pray their men return.
Before I tell you not to waste your money on Dream When You're Feeling Blue, let me assure you I'm a big Elizabeth Berg fan. I buy and read everything she writes, and I've only been disappointed once before, though she's published 16 books in so many years.
Having said that ... don't waste your money. If, like me, you're a big fan and absolutely have to read everything she writes, get it from the library.
Feeling Blue started well and has a great premise: three sisters in the 1940s write letters to men who are gone off to World War II. One sister is engaged to her soldier; one wants to be engaged, and the youngest writes to a number of casual acquaintances she meets at USO dances.
Elements of Feeling Blue were exquisite. In one letter, for instance, a soldier described D-Day as it really was, and the details had breath-stealing power. For instance, tanks were dropped via parachute, but the devices that were supposed to hold them afloat failed, and they sank, drowning their crews inside.
But. *sigh* First, Berg included far too much idiomatic language: pink squirrel, Green Hornet, make-do cake, Roosevelt coffee, cherub bob, spiritual bouquet, climb up your thumb, puss like mine, try to put the bite on, flashy car with a bear trap, togged to the bricks, Velva, too ginned up (not meaning drunk), droolies, Able-Grable, dead hoofer, off the rattler, like bing, wearing iron, zotzed, etc. etc. etc. Most of the time, I could figure out the meaning in context, but not always.
I understand that an author needs to include period language to create a mood, to evoke a by-gone time. But there was so much slang, that I was too aware of the author, as if she was saying, "See how much research I did?!" And anytime I'm aware of the author, it's a story that doesn't work for me.
I don't read stories. I live them (this is the primary reason I rarely read horror). But when the author gets in the way, then I'm still me, sitting in my safe life, just reading about something that never happened. And that's not magic.
Even worse though, Feeling Blue's ending was obvious from about the second chapter. In fact, halfway through the book, when I complained to my husband about how obvious one outcome was, my teenage son walked through the room and added a specific detail he thought would also be included (sorry, I can't be more clear without spoilers). And by golly, when I finally got there, sure enough: it happened exactly the way even my teenager knew it would, because that's how this kind of story always ends.
For me, that's a deal-breaker. I don't want to know the ending until I get there, and I sure don't want the ending I've already seen dozens of times.
There was another element of the ending that I didn't guess -- but only because it was impossibly out of character. It didn't push my "Oh, puhleeze" button (which is bad enough); it pushed my "Oh, brother!" button.
Then there's the fact that after the emotional climax, you turn the page to find 18 months or so have passed (that's when the "Oh, brother!" moment occurs). You get about one full page of info, turn another page and ... voila! ... it's 60 years later.
Finally, to nail down damnation on the book, Berg must have thought she had to tell the reader what had passed in the intervening six decades because she concocted a young, male cab driver who is just fascinated by the life of his 85-year-old female rider. He plies her with eager questions throughout the ride: "What was school like then? What had she done for a living? Had she lived here all her life?"
When's the last time you hailed a cab in Chicago, and found the 20-something driver fascinated by your life? That's the point where I literally threw the book across the kitchen table in disgust.
Elizabeth Berg is a gifted writer, and I highly recommend you read her books. But read Talk Before Sleep, or Never Change, or Open House, or Range of Motion.
Give Dream When You're Feeling Blue a pass.