Title: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
Author: Nichole Bernier
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
When Kate loses her friend Elizabeth in a plane crash the summer after the 9/11 attacks, she is haunted by her friend’s death and the fragility of life. She decides to go away with her family for the summer, to spend some time healing and coming to terms with Elizabeth’s death, when Elizabeth’s husband tells Kate something surprising. Elizabeth kept journals, and she wanted Kate to have them. As Kate immerses herself in her friend’s life, she is shocked by how much she didn’t know about her close friend.
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is a novel about secrets. How well can you really know someone? Though Kate saw Elizabeth almost every day before her death and considered Elizabeth one of her closest friends, Kate sees an entirely new side of her through her journals. She had no idea Elizabeth’s upbringing was so difficult, nor how hard she found motherhood. We often show our best selves, the person we want to be, rather than who we actually are, to those around us. Without knowing those deep, dark emotions and feelings, can we truly understand another person?
Kate grapples with these questions as she becomes consumed by Elizabeth’s journals. Elizabeth’s husband is convinced that she was preparing to leave her family behind, that she had a secret lover. Kate must take on the difficult responsibility of mediating between husband and deceased wife. How much information should she convey? Now that Elizabeth is dead, is the truth important? At the same time, Kate is having difficulty with her own family. Her husband doesn’t understand her obsession with Elizabeth’s journals, and it’s taking its toll on her marriage.
The time period of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is incredibly interesting and is crucial to the novel as a whole. It’s set in a post-9/11 world, when that tragedy is still very fresh. The fact that Elizabeth died in a plane crash brings back haunting, difficult memories. The entire novel has a very delicate feel, as if applying too much pressure might bring the whole thing crashing down around the reader. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how Bernier wrote this atmosphere, but it’s incredibly well done and serves to underscore the importance of the storyline, of finding closure after someone’s death.
Though The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is an easy read, that doesn’t mean it’s a light one. It deals with difficult questions of death and the nature of friendship. It’s a contemplative novel that will leave readers pondering long after it’s over, which is why it would make a great book club pick. It’s an impressive debut novel that will leave readers clamoring for more from Nichole Bernier.