“A compelling mystery and a wise meditation on friendship, marriage, and motherhood.”—J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine
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. 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.
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.
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Praise for The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
“An absorbing, bittersweet novel that examines the vast gray area between protecting and deceiving the ones we love.”—Vanessa Diffenbaugh, New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers
“Bernier’s excellent storytelling skills will keep you pondering long after the final page.”—Washington Post
“Bernier masterfully eases open the doors that guard our deepest fears and, against a backdrop of a New England beach vacation, sweeps in fresh air and hope.”—Parade
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.
I felt like I lost a friend when I finished this book which is good because I wanted more. Well written and warm. I think there are some loose ends that didn't get tied up like the rash on her neck. Also the twist on what the secret was left me a little frustrated. But overall a good summer read.
Fantastic debut novel
This is an engrossing work of secrets kept and inner lives shared through journals. Elizabeth dies in a plane crash and leaves her friend a trunk of journals going back to her youth. Much is revealed - much more than her friend Kate, or Elizabeth's husband, Dave, ever knew. What unspools is a captivating tour de force of observation about marriage, friendship, how our lives are lived and the sharp contrast with the alternative lives we choose not to share with even our spouses and best friends.
Bernier is an accomplished professional travel writer, and this is her first fiction. Believe me, it won't be her last. The well-deserved praise the book has earned to date is just the tip of the iceberg. The characters are fully formed, if not fully revealed, and setting the book down takes effort. Bernier's wise interpretation of wives' and husbands' unspoken exchanges, with the full backstory explained, will cause you to consider your own relationships anew. After soaking in the briney summer of Kate's vacation and the late nights she spends missing her own husband while reading Elizabeth's journals, something as innocuous as asking "how are you" to a friend can turn on a dime. Complexity, subtlety, and the hard work of emerging through a facade to truth are vividly conveyed.
This book is a fun read, despite the very adult themes and heavy relationship talk. The sparks fly when Bernier presents something as tense as a white lie about a cigarette smoked on the sly or the heartbreak of putting the dog down. Common events, but invigorated by prose that is a sculpture garden of words and phrases.
Put this one in your beach bag this summer!