The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier
One of the greatest joys one can receive from reading a great novel is an epiphany about changing your life for the better. The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, the debut novel from Nichole Bernier, definitely did that for me in a number of ways through the multitude of themes she expertly weaves together into one heartfelt story.
Elizabeth died in a plane crash one year ago (a month before 9/11), and she has bequeathed her lifelong collection of journals to one of her newer friends, Kate, with the instructions to “start at the beginning.” She reasoned Kate would be the most sensible in determining what to do with her journals. Kate takes her assignment very seriously, practically to the point of driving a wedge between her and her husband, Chris, and losing the friendship she’d built with Elizabeth’s husband, David. She decides to take advantage of her family’s seven-week vacation on an island off Massachusetts to read, and soon finds herself practically obsessed with discovering the secrets of Elizabeth’s life.
Bernier expertly takes readers through Elizabeth’s life through her journal entries while telling Kate’s story of learning to accept that she didn’t quite know Elizabeth as well as she thought she did, as well as trying to bring order to her chaotic life. She uses three very specific themes in the novel: the relationships women have with those in their lives (both familial and friendly); the stress women deal with when deciding whether they should or could be a working mother; and the constant fear people felt the first year after 9/11.
The internal and external struggles of both Kate and Elizabeth are universal for women, whether a career woman, a stay-at-home mom, or a working mom. I identified with Elizabeth on many levels. Even though she’s only present through her writings and the memories of the living characters, she’s an unforgettable character. I was less moved by Kate, as I found her constant worry to be a bit extreme. Of course, that was right after 9/11 when emotions and fears were on overdrive, and it’s quite possible there were people who had panic attacks simply by thinking about what could come next.
As I moved through the book, I kept checking to make sure this was, in fact, Bernier’s debut novel. She writes with such expertise and passion, I couldn’t believe she hadn’t been published before! I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a well-written novel with unforgettable female characters, or someone who’s looking for a little more oomph than the chick-lit they’re currently enjoying. There’s sure to be much more from Bernier, and I can’t wait!
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