With 28 books to her name — enough that she herself sometimes forgets the number — Elizabeth Berg says her newest novel feels a little bit different. “Every book is its own experience, the writing of it,” Berg said. For “The Story of Arthur Truluv” that started with the name — not her main character’s actual surname, but one Berg borrowed from a bus driver she’d met on a book tour in the South.
“I held onto that name,” Berg said, and began imagining who would wear it. “An image came to me of an older man sitting in a cemetery beside his wife’s grave, on a folding chair, with his lunch.” That man, a widower named Arthur Moses, became “an anchor of goodwill,” Berg said, in a book about loss and grief that somehow manages to be “overwhelmingly on the side of life affirmation.”
Berg recalled crying while reading the book’s final pages to her partner as soon as she had written them. “I think the book is a lot larger than I thought it was,” she said, “or at least for me it is. It speaks to the need for human connection and how we really are dependent upon each other, and we really are all connected, and ought to be able to do a better job at loving each other.”
Much of the book is set in the cemetery where Arthur visits his late wife, Nola, imagining his way into the stories of “all her neighbors,” her fellow departed. “I think I’m not alone in finding comfort in going to cemeteries whether I know anyone there or not. There’s a kind of peace and a kind of realignment of priorities. It’s part of the knowledge that each life matters, and that each person matters. We are not strangers to one another.”
Berg will read 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wellesley Books.Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.