In Elizabeth Berg’s Never Change (Pocket Books, $23.95), looks loom large for protagonist Myra Lipinsky. Myrais a 51 year-old visiting nurse whose own affliction, as she fatalistically sees it, is a terminal plainness which disqualifies her from the world of romantic attachment. A child of Polish Jews “who had accents,” Myra gains acceptance into the post-1950s world of her small New Finland town by becoming sidekick to the most popular girl in high school, Diann Briedenbach, and confidante to Diann’s boyfriend, football star and heartthrob. Chip Reardon.
As the novel unfolds, this trio is reunited, three decades later, when Chip returns to his hometown with an end-stage brain tumor, and Myra is assigned to care for him. Diann, who has had a stormy relationship with the philandering Chip for years, rejoins her friends, and the three embark on a path of reckoning. In addition to her three main characters. Berg has created a vibrant supporting cast made up of Myra’s physically and, in many ways, emotionally debilitated patients, to explore further the central question of the novel—to what extent do uncontrollable circumstances, like physical appearance and cultural heritage, define identity? The answer implied in the story’s denouement engenders a spirit of hope that is all the more poignant and authentic given its elegiac roots.
Carol Verderese is a medical editor and freelance book critic currently writing her first novel.