The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D (B+) by Nichole Bernier took me back to the days just after 9/11 when fear, anxiety and sadness were the prevailing sentiments of the day.

Kate moves to Connecticut and becomes Elizabeth’s neighbor. When Kate arrives, Elizabeth invites her to join “the playgroup” consisting of other mothers and their small children. A friendship based on trust and need develops. This friendship is interrupted when Kate moves with her family to Washington, DC.  Soon after moving to DC, Elizabeth is killed in a plane crash.  She leaves behind a husband, three children and a trunk full of her diaries. Before leaving for Joshua Tree, Elizabeth left instructions with her lawyer advising him that if she were to die the trunk and it’s contents should be given to Kate.  Elizabeth requests that Kate read the diaries “starting at the beginning”.

Kate brings the trunk with her on her annual beach vacation. She reads nightly from the journals and discovers an unfamiliar Elizabeth. Elizabeth writes passionately about events in her life; events she has never shared with Kate. Kate learns that Elizabeth had a sister who was killed and an alcoholic mother who died of breast cancer.  What she writes about marriage, motherhood and their friendship is shocking.

As Kate becomes consumed with Elizabeth’s life she begins to question her own. She, too, has secrets she is keeping from her family and friends. Since 9/11, fear and anxiety have her spiraling out of control. She is struggling to maintain her equilibrium. Now, she has to deal with the responsibility of Elizabeth’s diaries.  Some questions haunt Kate. Why was Elizabeth going to Joshua Tree and why didn’t she leave the diaries to her husband?
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is beautifully written.  It touched me on so many levels. As a mother, I identified with so much of Kate’s fears after 9/11 and I remember how those fears impacted our daily lives.  Bernier wrote authentically and precisely captured the essence of motherhood. Add the sense of responsibility and value placed on friendships and you have one powerfully poignant novel that I recommend you read.  This would be a perfect book for discussion because it surely addresses the “what ifs” we all think about but never speak of.



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