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[462] Range of Motion – Elizabeth Berg

” I am thinking that if someone told me he would never, ever wake up, I would still not be unfaithful to him. I will never be unfaithful to him. Never. I am pressing my lips into his forehead saying this word inside myself like a mantra, Never, never; but a singsong counterpoint is saying, Yes, you would, yes, you would. ” (80)

Following a grotesque accident that leaves her husband comatose, Lainey, mother of two, is plucked from her normal life. She wants neither her parents or Jay’s parents to come visit because if even the doctors don’t have much hope that Jay would wake up, what can the parents do? Lainey Berman prefers to cope with sorrow on her own. But she is never hopeless: she decides to make things around Jay as normal as possible. She would leave the television on for him, dress him with the usual clothes, and put on his sneakers. She would bring food hoping the aroma would somehow trigger his receptive nerves. She talks to him and encourages her daughters to do the same.

He never does anything back. Not one thing. He just lies there. I don’t see why you think he can hear you. And I don’t see why we have to come. It’s creepy. And it doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t do anything! (137)

The beauty of Range of Motion lies in its truth and simplicity. Berg’s writing is perfect in the sense that she does not indulge in Lainey’s misery and sorrow in order to make a tear-jerker out of the book. It’s a rather unsentimental exploration of Lainey’s sentiment–her fear, nervousness, uncertainty. She would imagine scenes in which Jay is awake. She would not take a day off and get some fresh air in the country. While she clings on to the hope of Jay’s recovery and reminisces of the happy memories, I don’t get the impression that she is wallowed in miseries. The book does conjure up feelings and emotions that we all work hard to repress. Being a keen observer of life, Berg allows readers to relate to her character and submerge into Lainey’s viewpoint as she copes with life’s curves. Throughout the novel, she is sustained by her relationships with two very special women, each of whom teaches her about the enduring bond of friendship and the genuine power of hope.

I can feel you. Listen. I can feel you all. Come closer. It’s so warm. Oh, here, the little weight of my daughter next to me, the feel of her hand on my forehead. Skin to skin, can you hear me, Amy? A pulling up, a rising in my chest, a flutter. And now I feel . . . Look. Is my finger alive, moving? I can’t open my eyes, what is so heavy on them? A serpentine tunnel. This convoluted blackness. (135)

Some of the most beautiful writings are Jay’s comatose narratives, asides, responses, and incommunicable speeches. Serpentine tunnel. Black convoluted blackness. A ship lolling in the waves. The arching up of a million rainbows under the lids of my eyes.

A memorable book about what it means to live and how we can easily forget what we have been given in the first place.

217 pp. Random House Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

6 Responses

  1. The quotes you have pulled out for this review have really made me interested in reading this one.

    • Berg is just a writer of a different league. She is easy to read but the writing is very provocative. From time to time I put down the book and just reflected.

  2. Interesting format. It sounds pretty compelling.

    • Like I said, Berg is not difficult to read. She doesn’t have complicated themes and literary sophistication. Her writing is simple but nuanced.

  3. I’ve read others by Berg that have not been my favorite but your review of this one intrigues me enough to add this one to my list.

    • I like how Berg explores very deep issues and yet maintains a very light, readable style. A woman at the coffee shop told me Berg is an stylistically outlandish author. Not really to me, at least judging from this book.

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