“The Story of Arthur Truluv” by Elizabeth Berg, Random House: November 2017, 240 pp. $26
By Ann Jonas
For The Visitor
Elizabeth Berg has written many popular novels, including an Oprah Book Club selection (“Open House”) and a couple of American Library Association Best Books of the Year selections (“Durable Goods” and “Joy School”).
Her new novel, “The Story of Arthur Truluv,” is another gem and features three characters who are struggling to deal with the loss of someone dear to them. It is a short novel but sweet and affecting.
Arthur Moses is 85 years old and has visited the cemetery in small town Mason, Missouri, every day since his dear wife Nola was buried there six months ago. While at the cemetery, he eats the lunch he’s packed, visits with Nola, reads what’s written on other tombstones and imagines the lives of some of the people buried there.
Maddy is a troubled, introverted almost 18-year-old who comes to the cemetery regularly to escape from classmates in school who are cruel to her. When she was just a couple of weeks old, her mother died in a car accident; Maddy’s father has raised her but he is a very distant dad.
Maddy likes to take photographs and write poetry. She is involved with a young man who isn’t very good to her or for her.
Arthur and Maddy meet while they are in the cemetery, and Maddy is immediately struck by Arthur’s devotion to his late wife and his kindness toward Maddy. She decides to call him “Arthur Truluv,” and Arthur dubs her “Sunshine.” They soon strike a friendship, and later Maddy must rely on Arthur to help her through some challenges in her young life.
Lucille, Arthur’s somewhat snoopy next-door neighbor, is a retired school teacher. Years ago, her high school love wed another woman and Lucille subsequently never married. She has recently reunited with her former beau, who is now a widower. Lucille does a lot of baking and often shares her goodies with Arthur. In return, Arthur visits with Lucille and puts the star on top of her tree at Christmas.
After the first few pages of this book, readers may be reminded of “A Man Called Ove,” given that the main character is a quirky widower who deeply misses his departed wife. Like Ove, Arthur has a pet cat who offers him companionship but often seems insolent. And, like Ove, Arthur doesn’t really understand young people. However, where Ove is cantankerous, Arthur is a kind soul and believes “above all, aging means the abandonment of criticism and the taking on of compassionate acceptance.” Readers will be charmed by Arthur and his kindness throughout this novel.
Several unfortunate circumstances place Arthur, Maddy and Lucille together. They join to form a unique kind of family as they each struggle through some tough situations, garnering support from each other. All three of them contribute something to make life easier for the others.
“The Story of Arthur Truluv” is a lovely story about acceptance, compassion and kinship. Berg uses humor throughout her book, but tugs on readers’ heartstrings, too. It is a quick read that will delight and entertain readers.
This book is available in bookstores everywhere, including the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Bookstores.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.