this is not a review: ‘pull of the moon’, by elizabeth berg

Middle aged woman runs away, writes letters home daily to husband whom she has no intention of leaving. She just needs a break. She’s happy with him, now she wants to be happy with herself.

“…the pull of the moon will be shared by you and the ocean and the minds of wild things.”

I love a good yarn about a woman who runs away.

In Elizabeth Berg’s Pull of the Moon, Nan, the protagonist, is fifty. (They’re always fifty.) She buys a turquoise journal and leaves home. She tells her husband Martin (in a letter) not to worry, that she’s not crazy or even unhappy, that she loves him. “I needed all of a sudden to go, without saying where, because I don’t know where.”

In the turquoise journal she writes to a ‘you’… as Anne Frank wrote to her journal ‘Kitty’. “I bought this black pen for you. I feel shy saying this, as though we are friends too new to exchange anything without it being too important.” There’s a sense she’s also writing to a new and still unformed side of herself.

She also writes almost daily letters to husband Martin, wonderful letters, conversational, about things she sees and wonders, things she can’t say to him in person, or has gotten out of the habit of saying.

One of her goals is to ‘talk to women’ and she meets a few in her rather ordinary travels (a quite perfect ordinariness, I should say, that gives her story its power).

“It seems to me that the working minds and hearts of women are just so interesting, so full of colour and life. And one of the most tragic things I’ve seen is the way that’s been overlooked, the way that if you try to discover what the women were doing at any given time in history, you are hard-pressed to find out. Why? I want to say to you that we are not silly, that what we think about and what drives us to talk, talk, talk, this is vital.”

And from the floozy looking woman at the trailer park hanging laundry in silver heels:

“I said what type did I look like and she said I looked like the type that went down and volunteered at some suicide prevention centre in order to save my own life.”

There’s a woman shelling peas. And another being screamed at in grocery store. There are, in fact, women everywhere. And they are living lives that are never mentioned, anywhere.

“I feel a kind of strength happening that is wholly legitimate, that is not some trapping I wear until it falls off. It is as though the thing has roots, and seeks the sun with its face turned toward it. And I know I never would have found it without leaving.”

At one point in her travels she writes:

“Today I woke up and felt the old pull of sadness back… This was disappointing. I thought I’d escaped something.”

But the journey continues nonetheless. And I’m pleased that it doesn’t end with either epiphany and monumental change, or defeat.

“Let it be this way: Let me be eighty-eight. Let me have just returned from the hair-dresser. Let me be sitting in a lawn chair beside my garden, a large-print book of poetry in my hands. Let me hear the whistle of a cardinal and look up to find him and feel a sudden flutter in my chest and then—nothing. And, as long as I’m asking, let me rise up over my own self, saying, Oh. Ah.”



3 thoughts on “this is not a review: ‘pull of the moon’, by elizabeth berg

  1. So I want to write you a dissertation on this book:} When I was one among the women who run and I packed my two suitcases of second hand clothes to start my life in a new country where I only knew one person I had room for only 2 books. One suitcase was full of pictures of my children. My real treassures. One was Kenneth J Harvey’s The Town That Forgot how to Breath cause I love it and Maritimers know each other, intimately and the other was The Pull of the Moon. I had bought multiple copies to give to all of my nursing friends and we dissected in during the midnight shifts at the hospital where we all worked. It seemed that even the happy women had contemplated ‘running away’ at one time or another and Elizabeth put it into words for us all. I probably would have received the award for ‘Most Likely to Run’ as several times each day I would lick my index finger and raise it into the wind and say ‘My God. This Just Might Be a Great Day to Run Away. ‘ I was so known for my mantra that when I went into the CBC radio stations to read my poetry on air, news reporters would look up from their research to ask me ‘Well Sheree. Is this a great day to run away?’ I not only gave it to women but I dissected the book with the lead song writer for Tanglefoot who lived in Ontario and who I was co writing song lyrics with for a male perspective.( We co wrote those songs by letter. The anticipation of those10 page epilogues fuelled me and Chris Hatfield took the cd with one of my co writes on the space ship Endeavour and played it while he circled the earth.) He defended the husband as showing his love for his wife through the roses he grew while I saw that as a cop out and just another reason to distance himself from her sense of lose of self ,of being needed as a mother and more importantly as a woman. I felt I understood why she ran and so would all of my friends. It was that opening scene from The Bridges of Madison County all over again where the family are sitting around the table passing among the two kids and their dad and the mom, well, she is invisible. I love the parts of the book you mention but for me, the part of the book that stripped my soul bare was the part when her daughter had moved out and she went into her bedroom, found a shoebox with her favourite stuffed animal inside. She lost it then. Remember? and when she put the shoebox back on the shelf she left the lid a little open so that animal could Still Breathe. Mercy. My Neely had two cloth dolls that she called Lil and Dil:} that she loved above all else. They laid on her bed by the smell of her pillows long after she stopped leaving the house without them. I too put them in a box and left the lid alight so that they could breathe. On her 16th birthday I wrote a story about them, a full half page with pictures of course, and as a surprise it was published in our provincial newspaper where I worked as a freelance writer. I thought she would be delighted. She wasn’t lol.. I think The Pull of the Moon is about All that we leave behind and wish that we had known then how not to. Thank you Carin for connecting me to that dusty book on my library shelf. I’m going in.

    1. Sheree, Sheree, Sheree… my word. What a story. So rich, so much here, so many images (your daughter’s cloth dolls, breathing!). I can feel your emotion, can picture those midnight shifts, women sharing, confiding in each other. The lives of girls and women, eh? We can all so relate to the feeling of wanting/needing escape, and the ways we find it, where we go to breathe. There’s a metaphor there somewhere with your words circling the planet… something about anything being possible if we’re only willing to leap, and then go the distance. (You continue to astonish, delight and inspire, dear lady.) xoxo

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