True Love: The Story of Arthur Truluv (review)

The Story of Arthur Truluv
Elizabeth Berg
Random House

Elizabeth Berg’s new novel The Story of Arthur Truluv is, as the title suggests, a story about True Love–not necessarily the love you’ll find in sappy Valentine cards, but the kind of love that is even greater. Like the love that reaches across generations, old to young and back again. And the love that lives across the street in a neighborly sort of way. The love that awakens between a mother and her child at the first little flutter. Or even the love that comes in a home-baked orange blossom butter cookie, shared.

Arthur Moses visits his Nola every day in the cemetery, riding the bus to eat his lunch and have a little chat with her. Since her death nearly six months before, Arthur’s life has become flat. Gray. It’s just Arthur and their cat Gordon making do with hots dogs and beans, toast and soup. There are no more garden bouquets on the kitchen table. Gone is the hum of her sewing machine. And the steady rhythm Nola brought to Arthur’s life? Missing.

Until he meets seventeen-year-old Maddy Harris.

Now Maddy has always been sad. Her mother died when she was only two weeks old, and her father’s parenting was distant, at best. He never talked about her mother, never shared his remembrances.¬† Maddy loves cemeteries and that’s where she meets Arthur. Distraught after being dumped by her older boyfriend, Maddy finds a warmth in Arthur that she’s never experienced. And they become fast friends.

Arthur’s neighbor Lucille thought love had passed her by sixty years ago until a high school sweetheart returns and they make plans for the future. But Lucille’s plans are foiled and she, too, finds a friend, first in Arthur–and then Maddy.

When Maddy suddenly finds herself in a difficult spot, she runs away–and ends up running towards a love that is big enough to save her. And Arthur. And Lucille.

Now that I’m closer in years to my end than to my beginning, one of my greatest worries is that I’ll feel like Lucille did for a time: useless. What happens when the career is over? Passion has been snuffed out? The children (and someday even the grandchildren!) are preoccupied with their own lives? Our world worships youth and values productivity–what will be my place? Arthur found¬†his calling: “I am the audience. I am the witness. I am the great appreciator … I don’t feel useless. I feel lucky.”

The Story of Arthur Truluv is a deceptively simple story, and it might be tempting to read it as a sweet tale about an old man and a young girl. Nothing more. But as in the best of storytelling, it is Truth. Arthur continued to reach out and offer love even when he seemed to have nothing worthwhile to give. And in doing so, he changed lives.

May this be my own love story, too.

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