The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. – Nichole Bernier

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. – Nichole Bernier
Crown Publishers/2012
  Reviewed By: Sheri de Grom

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., debut novel by Nichole Bernier, has a far too compelling storyline to pass up.

Elizabeth died in a commercial plane crash the summer after 9/11 and she’s left her journals to her best friend, Kate Spencer. Journals she began in childhood.

I immediately related to both Elizabeth and Kate. I’ve kept journals for as long as I can remember. In the beginning, they were diaries. Does anyone remember those pink ones decorated with hearts and fairies that you could lock with a key? I wrote in mine everyday, and faithfully locked it—never once forgetting to hide it between my mattress and box-springs. Did I really believe my older brothers cared about what their little sister wrote after Mom and Dad said, “Lights out?”

Later I graduated to journaling in most anything that would hold the pages together. How I escaped finding Levenger’s leather-bound refillable journals until my forties, I have no idea. I’m now of the opinion I need twelve-step meetings because I’m addicted to Levenger’s high-end writing-products. But I digress.

Kate, along with her husband Chris and their two children, snags the family’s annual monthly rental cottage for seven weeks at the beach on Great Rock Island. Who could pass up such a deal? Seven weeks for the price of their usual one month fee. After Chris uses up his vacation time, he’ll have to work from their cottage but that’s better than going back to DC, where they live.

En route to the beach, they passed through New York where they used to live and where Kate and Elizabeth had become best friends.

When Elizabeth died the previous summer, she left behind her husband, Dave, and their three small children. Everyone’s still unsettled, including Kate.

. . . Pg3 [Kate pulled out the note the lawyer had forwarded to her in lieu of any other instructions . . . . . A small antique key was taped to a note card. There’s something I’d like to add to the bequests section of the will. Please amend it so that Katherine Spencer gets my trunk of journals. In whatever legal language is appropriate, please indicate that I’m leaving them to her because she’s fair and sensitive and would know what should be done with them, and ask that she start at the beginning.] . . .

Elizabeth’s husband, Dave, wasn’t supposed to read anything written in the diaries. He knew they were clearly off-limits. He tells Kate, when she picks the diaries up, that he couldn’t resist the final, partially written-in diary and he now knows Elizabeth wasn’t going to California for a painting workshop, but to have an affair.

Kate refuses to believe this about her friend. She would have known, wouldn’t she? Once, when Kate and Elizabeth had been walking on the beach together, Elizabeth had casually mentioned something about a Michael—but darn. Why hadn’t she paid more attention to what Elizabeth was saying?

Kate reads the diaries chronologically as her best friend asked—it’s hard. She wants to rush ahead. Elizabeth had to have her reasons for making the request.

Kate thinks back to her own decision of marrying Chris. It had been an easy decision. Like Elizabeth, she’d given up her career and traveling to exotic locations with Chris when he was on assignment. After their son was born, Kate had to stay home. She didn’t feel resentment, did she?

Kate recognizes she hadn’t known Elizabeth at all. Had resentment built up in her friend? The Elizabeth that Kate knew—the one willing to lead all the play groups, never hesitated to do what had to be done, had the perfect back-yard set-up for children, and a smile always appeared to be her resting expression. If being part of a group had not come naturally she must have had a lot of practice somewhere along the line or she hid it well.

. . . Pg61 Chris [leaned back in his chair, crossed his hands over his stomach. “You were reading those journals pretty late again last night,” he said.

“She picked up the bottle and poured a small amount in her glass, then tipped the last into his. “It’s strange, reading about the way a person thinks her life is going to go and she has no idea what’s coming. When Elizabeth was young she really loved art. She wanted to be a painter in New York.”]. . .

Kate tells Chris she feels like she’s reading about a stranger and not her best friend. She doesn’t know this woman who wrote these journals. Chris is agitated that Kate won’t put the journals down. She tries—her mind swirls and thinks about her own life and the choices she’s made. Has she hidden herself from others? Did she share all of herself with Elizabeth?

Do you think about the day when you might be unable to pick up the telephone and call your best friend? The one you laugh and cry with, the one who supposedly knows more about you than maybe even you know? The friend who understands when you want to be quiet even when she’s bursting with boundless energy.

Nichole Bernier writes . . . Pg131 [The effects of your choices might not be clear at the moment they were made. But if you turned back to see where you’d come, there they’d be, the ghost of the path not taken leading to the places you would never go.]. . .

The seven weeks Kate and her family are at the beach are to give Kate a much needed restorative time after Elizabeth’s death. But, Kate has no one to talk to about her new thoughts and feelings—the only person she wants to talk with is Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is dead. Kate feels worse now than at the beginning of summer.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. resonated with me and specific scenes still follow me around and haunt me with their mystery. I finished reading the novel several weeks ago. But that’s what I like the most in a novel. I want a meaty read. Words to ponder and think about—words that must be allowed to filter into my inner core and absorbed. Nichole Bernier’s debut novel is set at the beach but it is not what we often refer to as a beach read. This book, while having romance, is a work of substance. It borders heavily on the side of literary, yet is easily readable. It’s also a mystery—there’s something for everyone. This book consumed me.

The story of Kate and the journals of Elizabeth ask us to look inside ourselves. Do we portray who we really are? Do we know?

Emotions are gripping from the beginning and they build until the end. Kate is obsessed with Elizabeth’s journals and the more she reads, the more she cannot join her family and participate in their vacation.

The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier is a must read. The substance makes it a great for book group. It’s a natural for any book seller that enjoys hand selling to individual customers. I recommend this debut novel unconditionally. It’s one of my top picks of the year and I believe it will easily earn a place within my personal top ten novels of 2012.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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14 Responses to The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. – Nichole Bernier

  1. Learning she didn’t know her friend by reading her journals reminds me of my friend Tiffany A. White’s Football Sweetheart. Protag reads murder victim/best friend’s diary and realizes she didn’t know her as well as she thought. You might enjoy it.

  2. Mae Clair says:

    I’ve never been a journal keeper. I tried several times but always gave up after a week or so. I guess it was too much on top of creating fictional worlds. I do, however, love a story that revolves around journals and diaries that reveal unexpected secrets. This sounds like a fab book, Sheri. Thanks for brining it to light!

    • Yes, Mae – I know what you mean about writing fiction and keeping a journal. I write raw in my journal and when I’m looking for really raw emotions–I know i can find them in my journals. I’ve also always loved to write in my journals about where I happened to be on a specific day and write a few details – thus – I often refer to them when I’m looking for descriptions. I also have to journal write first thing in the morning but I carry my journal in my purse in case I get stuck someplace and want to write a few lines.

  3. OMG that sounds sooooo good. I am off to buy it RIGHT now. I’ll let you know what I think. Thanks for the fahhhbulous review Sheri!!! Happy day!!!

  4. Sheri, you continue to intrigue me with your amazing selection of books. The face we show to the world is not always who we are to ourselves. This sounds so magnetic as to pull me into a vortex of “what ifs” … Thanks once again 🙂

    • Florence – I think of you and others that love to read what I call ‘meaty reads’ and wish we could gather round and discuss The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. I’ve kept journals from the time I learned to write and have often wondered why I continue to move them from place to place with me. Nichole Bernier is a wise, wise woman. This novel is definitely a winner in my opinion. I’d love to know what you think if you decide to read it.

  5. Sheri, you keep making my TBR list longer and longer and longer…but I just went and ordered this one before typing my reply!

    • Laurie – Thanks for stopping in, especially with the big class you have going on. I positively loved ‘The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.’ and it will make it on my list of ‘Sheri’s Top Ten of 2012’ without a doubt. This novel did not make it close to a to-be-read pile. I stopped what I was reading and read this novel first. I waited a long time to write the review–the book is so rich and here I am, still thinking about it. Let me know how you like it. I’d like to know.

  6. I like this type of book because diaries and journals intrigue me. And I’d like to think I’d enjoy the introspection it would afford me while reading it.
    Thank you, Sheri.

  7. Oh my! Such a wonderful review and so thorough. As an author in your review line-up, I am now waiting with baited breath for the treatment of Winds of Change. This book is now in my Kindle. No question. It sounds like an amazing read. Thanks, Sheri!

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