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Ordinary Life: Stories

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  4,392 Ratings  ·  166 Reviews
In this superb collection of short stories, Elizabeth Berg takes us into remarkable moments in the lives of women, when memories and events come together to create a sense of coherence, understanding, and change. In “Ordinary Life,” Mavis McPherson locks herself in the bathroom for a week, shutting out her husband and the realities of their life together—and, no, she isn’t ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 13th 2003 by Ballantine Books (first published 2001)
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Jun 04, 2009 Bonnie rated it really liked it
There were several good stories in this collection, but my favourite was Martin’s Letter to Nan. This short story was written in response to readers who had read The Pull of the Moon, and wondered, as I did, how Martin felt when menopausal Nan suddenly took off on a trip by herself, leaving Martin a note to say she didn’t know when she’d be back. As his wife never let him know where she was, The Pull of the Moon was one-sided in its focus on Nan’s letters to Martin, and the journal entries she m ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
There is some really beautiful writing in these stories. I love Elizabeth Berg. I suppose some people would consider her chick lit, but she has so much more depth than that. She has a way of capturing everyday feelings and thoughts we all share but don't know how to express.
Jo Dunn
Apr 07, 2013 Jo Dunn rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, audiobook
Ordinary Life: Stories, Elizabeth Berg's collection of short stories, will speak those of us who have experienced marriage, disappointment, child-rearing, joy, despair, childhood, fear, illness, humor, disillusionment and enduring love . . among other emotions evocative of the human condition.

There was not a single story (of the fourteen) that I couldn't relate to - in one way or another. Ms. Berg is another author I "stumbled upon" - only to find that I'd found a gifted wordsmith with an amaz
Sydney Avey
Sep 26, 2013 Sydney Avey rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors. I have commented on all of these stories on my blog posts 365 Short Stories at In her last story, Today's Special, every scene depicts what is special about the ordinary. Want comfort for your body and soul? Head to your locally owned diner where “Gossip isn’t sharp or malicious—it’s necessary, human reporting, and we listen with ears far more sympathetic than critical."

As a writer, I study Berg for the way she introduces
Jan 31, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it
At first I was frustrated by the short story format -- I would get really caught up in a character and then it was over. If I was still teaching creative writing, it would be a great example of character stories to build on.

Author's note -- "Martin's letter to Nan" is the answer to What was Martin's response? to The Pull of the Moon novel about 50 yr old woman dealing with menopause and aging. It's a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Women say they keep it by their bed. Need to read
Nov 14, 2014 Kathy rated it really liked it

She thinks sometime that she would like to marry him but she is already severely married. Sometimes it just happens that you meet people in the wrong order.

I have admiration for people who can take tenderness where they find it.

Why don’t we separate – keep each other in our wills, attend graduations and weddings and funerals together, date, even, but live apart? I don’t know, I guess it’s because love works that way, that the person who bedevils you is also the one you need.

Christmas Ev
Ray Ziemer
Oct 26, 2014 Ray Ziemer rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories was among a number of Elizabeth Berg books lying around which our friend Roberta had recommended to my wife Dawn. It’s been a while since I have read any good non-science fiction short stories. Amazingly, this collection comprises fourteen stories in which absolutely nothing happens! That’s not entirely a bad thing, but not what I am used to. They are just very thoughtful considerations of the characters’ lives. Berg’s style is straightforward and plain for all t ...more
Angie Rhodes
Jan 10, 2014 Angie Rhodes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I loved the book,of short stories by Elizabeth Berg, my favourite one? well it would have to be,Ordinary Life, where Mavis,locks herself in the bathroom, complete with food, blankets, pillows books, orange juice.
Elizabeth s books, have the wonderful dream like quality, that grabs you,and doesn't let go, is it one I would reread? Hell yes!
Aug 07, 2014 Gina rated it liked it
Although I really like Elizabeth Berg's other books, I was disappointed with this collection of short stories. Probably, it was form that frustrated me most of all since just as I started to get involved with the characters and plot, the story would abruptly end. There was a time when I liked short stories and even tried my hand writing some, but I hardly ever read or write them anymore. I have much more affection for the novel form since it has the scope to develop and sew together various char ...more
Elizabeth Berg makes me cry. Logically, I understand that my emotional responses are irrational and out of proportion to the stories at hand. In reality, I haven't read an Elizabeth Berg novel in 15 years, since before I had children, since my early-20s. I just don't remember them making me cry this much, and it's been a long enough time, several years, since I've had to stop reading a book partway through. Had to. Stop.

Also: I hate short stories. But I don't think I could have handled more of
Susan Gabriel
Jun 27, 2016 Susan Gabriel rated it liked it
The title is a good fit for this collection. I love Elizabeth Berg, however these stories were a little too ordinary for me. I wanted more insights from the characters and more memorable characters in general. On a positive note, they are the perfect length to read a story a night right before bed. And the writing was good, as always. I'm just at a stage in my reading life where I want anything I read--fiction or nonfiction--to knock my socks off. My socks stayed on for this book.

Susan Gabriel
Alina De teresa
Jan 24, 2015 Alina De teresa rated it it was amazing
I liked a lot. It is a tribute to daily life and how our relationships make our lives worth living.
Dec 29, 2014 Janie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
This is why I love Elizabeth Berg. In this passage from the story Caretaking she walks about vacationing with her parents at 7 years of age.
"I like the monotonous drone of the tires on the pavement, the containment in one small space all the things I need in my life. I will be safe forever - I can tell by the simple sight of the back of my parents' heads. They are up: alert, careful, and making the right decisions. I can stare into the sky until I sleep for real, worryless."

I am taken back to m
This was a beautifully written collection of stories. Each one independent of the other, but all focusing on the theme of the daily struggles people face. Some parts were laugh out loud funny. I especially loved Mavis' and Al's story, in which Mavis stays in the bathroom for week as a sort of vacation and her husband having to 'understand' why she feels compelled to do it (and no Al she's not going crazy). Also the story of the woman asking her husband to take a magazine quiz and how that seemin ...more
Sep 09, 2016 Meredith rated it really liked it
This is a collection of short stories that provide a glimpse into various characters' lives. It's both illuminating and entertaining, makes you laugh and makes you think. It also might make you crave a Heath bar, but you'll have to read it to find out why.

My biggest takeaway was this quote from One Time at Christmas in My Sister's Bathroom: "My point is that it seems we all of us return to what's familiar to us, no matter what. Even if it's not so wonderful, it's what we know. And it ... I don't
Carolyn Agosta
Jul 22, 2010 Carolyn Agosta rated it it was amazing
Ordinary Life is a collection of short stories by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Elizabeth Berg. The first story alone, "Ordinary Life; a Love Story" is worth the price of admission. It captures the small moments that really make our lives, as Mavis locks herself in the bathroom for a week and takes out her memories to thumb over. So many of those memories spoke to me - being young and sharing a bed with a sister, sitting and talking with that same sister later when you are married and ...more
May 12, 2012 Paula rated it it was amazing
Series of short stories - most of them quite good.

One of my favorite stories is a letter from Martin to Nan; who has taken a sabbatical of sorts from her marriage. Martin's perspective is interesting.

Couldn't there be some benevolent intention that graced some lives?

Martin to Nan: Nan you're worrying about the wrong things. Instead of your thighs, worry about the fact that you've lost your sense of sexual self-assurance. When will you women understand that what turns men on isn't what you thin
Brandi Johnson
A very dear friend turned me onto Elizabeth Berg and I am grateful to her for the recommendation. After checking out her entire body of work from my library, I decided to start with one of her short story collections. It fit perfectly; gut punch after tiny gut punch as I read about women of all ages navigating varying relationships. White Dwarf was probably my favorite of the bunch; or at least, the one that had what I imagine to be the most honest look at ordinary life.
Jessica Defreese
Jul 20, 2015 Jessica Defreese rated it liked it
I think that Berg's short stories are stronger overall than her novels, which tend to drag and get repetitive. Taken in a "I've never read any Elizabeth Berg" vacuum, any one of these stories is individually excellent. However, there really isn't anything new here. Berg is a very prolific niche writer, and so it's easy to burn out on her style and pet themes. But for high quality "comfort food" type reading, this is a great collection.
Jun 24, 2010 Knucklefish rated it really liked it
This collection of fourteen stories looks at various points of view in some of Elizabeth Berg's favorite themes: marriage, illness, parent-child relations, and forgiveness. And as always, she uses her gift for making the ordinary seem extraordinary.

The title story is great. A woman locks herself in the bathroom as a sort of retreat. In appropriate Elizabeth Berg fashion, she looks back on her life and realizes that she is satisfied with it in on its ordinariness. This is the gift Berg gives her
Mar 31, 2012 Joan rated it really liked it
This is a collection of short stories. No story is longer than 12 pages, and most are significantly shorter. But typical of Elizabeth Berg, she packs a great deal of honesty and emotion into each of her stories. Three stories in the beginning are shadowed by cancer. "Departure from Normal" gives a realistic description of how surreal a cancer diagnosis feels. Many of the stories are about marriages -- how they endure and survive in the midst of the tediousness of daily life. The stories from the ...more
Mar 29, 2014 Yvonne rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book of short stories and if you have read The Pull of the Moon, you should read the story in this book called Martin's Letter to Nan. It's what you wanted to know about what Martin thought of Nan leaving him and going on her adventure and what he thought of what she told him in her letters. Wonderful closure to The Pull of the Moon.
Feb 01, 2016 Cheryl rated it really liked it
A really powerful read with intense psychological overtones. I'm in the process of applying to grad school for mental health counseling and more than one of these stories struck me as something that might be useful in a therapeutic setting. Several of them made me tear up and the title story and Martin's Letter to Nan will stay with me for quite some time.
Margo Brooks
Dec 17, 2011 Margo Brooks rated it really liked it
Audiobook. I forgot the pleasures of reading short stories. I would not recommed the audiobook, because it is too hard to go back and read deeper, but I definitely recommend the book. Berg's characters all lead ordinary lives. They weren't morbidly depressed or engaged in bizarre behaviors. They were your neighbors, or yourself, living each day, and yet in their ordinariness, making life meaningful. There is a little girl trying to start a love affair between her two elderly neighbors, a woman w ...more
Carol Gaskamp
Feb 25, 2016 Carol Gaskamp rated it really liked it
Short stories, thoughtful reflections on relationships, especially in families, marriage. Especially liked the one written as a follow-up to 'the Pull of the Moon' as the husband's response to his wife's letters. Also liked the story of the 70+ year old woman going on a week long retreat in her bathroom.
Jul 27, 2014 Corinne rated it really liked it
Shelves: gym-books
This was a great collection of short stories. There really wasn't one I didn't like. I enjoyed the very real feeling characters and the central theme of ordinary, everyday life. While they were well-crafted, the stories weren't especially literary, which is all that keeps me from giving this book a full five stars. Really a solidly good book though!
This collection of short stories mainly deals with relationships, especially in marriages. There was also several mother/daughter stories that I especially enjoyed. Another story that I found touching was a coming-of-age story about a young girl helping an immigrant woman learning to speak English.

I had read the novel, The Pull Of The Moon, about a woman having trouble dealing with aging when she turned fifty, and going off on a trip by herself to sort things out. Her husband's response to the l
Linda Howland
Mar 23, 2015 Linda Howland rated it it was amazing
I have never been disappointed in an Elizabeth Berg book. She enters your mind, heart and soul like no other author can. In this series of short stories, the ordinary things in life become so meaningful and thought provoking. You will say I have been there or would like to be there!
Aug 26, 2014 Alyssa rated it really liked it
I liked many of the stories, especially the one about the woman who locked herself in the bathroom and the woman who was getting robbed. There were others throughout that were touching or sad or both (mentally ill mom), but there are a couple that weren't that interesting either.
Carol Evans
Jan 20, 2016 Carol Evans rated it liked it
One of the things I enjoy about this author is that each of her stories center around women and their everyday issues. This book was a compilation of short stories...some good, others rather boring.
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One of my favourite... 2 13 Oct 20, 2013 04:30AM  
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Elizabeth Berg is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including We Are All Welcome Here, The Year of Pleasures, The Art of Mending, Say When, True to Form, Never Change, and Open House, which was an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 2000. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, and Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for the ABBY Award in 1996. The w ...more
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“I understand that he is made up of working cells, just like me--crowded and confused pieces of genius that have been tampered with and now, wounded, go along in the way that they are able.” 6 likes
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