Best-selling author Elizabeth Berg lives in Chicago, but she has set her latest novel, “Tapestry of Fortunes,” squarely in St. Paul, the town in which she was born. The story involves a big house in Como Park, and four middle-aged women, each of whom is searching for something in the second half of her life. Here’s how it begins:
My best friend Penny’s grave has a simple headstone, light gray granite inscribed with her name, the date of her birth and the date of her death, which was four months ago. Below that, as agreed, are these words: Say it. Penny believed that people didn’t often enough admit to what they really felt, and she thought that made for a lot of problems. Being close to her meant that you had to attempt unstinting honesty, at least in your dealings with her. Her husband, Brice, could get annoyed about this, and so could I — a lack of deceit requires a kind of internal surveillance that can feel like work, and there are, after all, times when a lie serves a noble purpose. But overall, I think both he and I understood the value of such candor, and appreciated Penny’s efforts to steer us toward it. And then there was this: we wanted to please her because we both loved her so much. Loved and needed her.
And here she is.
I lean back on my hands and look out over the acres of graves. I used to feel that cemeteries were wasted space, that they could be put to far better use as parks, or golf courses, or even to allow for more living space. But I’ve changed my mind. There is a wide peace here, even in sorrow; and it’s sitting beside Penny’s grave that I can best feel her.
“Going to Atlanta tomorrow,” I tell her.
“It is good. Early flight, though. You know I hate those early flights.”
“Your sweet peas are blossoming,” I say. I planted some recently, at the base of her headstone.
I know. I see. Pink.
“Where are you?”