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.”