Sunday, November 19, 2017

Elizabeth Berg's The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Model for Living

For six months Arthur Moses has packed a bag lunch and taken a bus to the cemetery to eat lunch with his wife Nola. He stops to visit her neighbors, reading their headstones and imagining the lives they had lived when alive. 

At Nola's graveside, Arthur sets up his folding chair and eats his sandwich. 

Arthur is eighty-five years old. His doctor congratulations him; he could live to be one hundred. It would be an empty life, now Nola Corrine the Beauty Queen is gone.

But on this spring day when the buds 'are all like tiny little pregnant women' and Arthur wishes Nola, like spring, would return again, even as a new born baby, Arthur notices he is not alone with his dead.

A teenage girl, who should be in school, is sitting under a tree. He has seen her before. This time, he waves. Her hand flies to her mouth, and thinking he has frightened her, Arthur leaves.

Maddy watches the old man walk to the bus. She is comforted by the graveyard. In life, she is a loner, a loser, a motherless girl with a distant father. She likes to take photographs of little things, blown up big. She sneaks out of the house at night to meet a handsome older boy. They don't talk much.

Arthur befriends Maddy, changing both their lives.

The Story of Arthur Truluv probes the depth of loneliness and depression in the elderly and the young, bringing disparate characters into clear focus, revealing their common humanity and mutual need. 

Arthur's untapped capacity for love expands and embraces Maddy, and then his cranky elderly neighbor Lucille. 

Named Truluv by Maddy, Arthur embodies true love not only for his lost Nola but also for the lost Maddy and unloved Lucille.

This charming, quiet novel will appeal to many readers. At first, though, I wondered what made it different? What made it worth reading over other books about friendship between the old and young or between the elderly?

In the Acknowledgements, Elizabeth Berg says, "When you write a novel as delicate as this one seemed to me to be, you can only hope that readers will see beyond the simple words on the page to the more complex meanings behind them."

And it hit me. This story is a kind of parable. 

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
“Who is my neighbor?”

Love your neighbor. And who is my neighbor? My neighbor is any person God has put in my path.

This gentle story reminds us to love one another. The cranky, the misfits, the girl with the nose ring, the ineffectual father, the unborn--and ourselves. 

Can we ever hear this message enough? It is today as revolutionary as it was millennium ago, going against common sense and financial sense, even against this administration's  governmental goals.

Our inability to love one another is the greatest threat to democracy today. We have cut ourselves off, categorizing our fellow human companions on this small planet as 'other', inferior, contemptible, unnecessary, mistaken, and misguided.  

Who should we love? The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not about helping those who are like us, supporting people of our ilk, class, race, faith. We are to love whoever God puts into our path. Right there, next door to us, the person mourning at the cemetery across from us, even the person who has caused another to feel unloved and rejected. We are to love the stranger, those who grieve, those who are angry, those who have been rejected, those who are warped, and those who cannot love themselves.

Arthur Truluv's example teaches us that by our acts we can impact the world for generations. Love your neighbor as yourself. If each of us resists the world's wisdom by this radical act, what a wonderful world it would be. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Story of Arthur Truluv
by Elizabeth Berg
Random House
Publication Date: November 21, 2017
$26 hardcover
ISBN: 9781400069903

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