Myth's Reviews > Home Safe

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg
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did not like it
bookshelves: fiction

I received this book for free, as a sort of promotional Nook was doing. I felt kind of cheap and decided I would get this, instead of one of the books I had planned on.

What a mistake.... but before I get into subject analysis and general ranting, here are the technical specs.

Most of the writing is in third person present tense. At first it's awkward to read in present tense, but you get use to it. It appears to be written this way so as to make easy transitions from past and present.

The main character, Helen, is a writer. Writers writing about fictional writers always seems to be a hit or miss. At times I've seen it regarded almost as taboo. I understand the reason why. It makes it look as if the author knows nothing else and can't learn anything else to write about.

In the dialogue Tessa often says "Mom" more than once almost every time she's talking to her mom. As if to get her mom out of a trance. Sometimes it's hard to understand how and why she's saying mom more than once. It makes her character come off as a fourteen year old, if not a two year old. I think it's somewhat unclear her purpose for saying, "Mom, mom, mom". That should've been clarified, "Mom, Mom? Mom!"

The book is over 200 pages, which I think ended up excessive. The writing is simplistic and sometimes lacking. Most of the time descriptions are plopped where ever and might take up a page, so as not to be woven or bothered with.

Onto subject matter, the book is basically about... well nothing in particular. It's a lazy book with pathetic characters. Helen is perhaps the most disgusting, immature character I've ever read about. She's annoying, pushy and childish. It's depressing to think there are people like Helen, who refuse to learn or stretch or do anything with their lives.

The book is a waste of material and of time. It would've been fine as an hour movie, though I can't imagine it would've been very popular as there's hardly any actual... plot or conflict...

I do not GET this book. It's mediocre stupidity. This is Not the book to read directly after The Famished Road. In that book people are suffering. In this book it's like "Oh poor Helen, with her dream house and her 50k in the bank". It's disgusting. I don't know how any morally sound person can enjoy this garbage and actually feel sympathy for such a character. I wanted to hit Helen over the head with a baseball bat.

I continued reading, because I thought maybe Helen would wake up and her practically perfect little world would encounter some conflict. I'm use to reading books that have conflict...

I thought maybe something would happen with Tessa or with Claudia that would make up for what a shallow premise this book was based on. I thought Tessa might be a lesbian. I thought Claudia might commit suicide or attempt.

I thought the way the book was written was blatantly careless with some characters, especially Claudia. I just so happened to be in a Creative writing class where one of the people had been through a devastating experience and abuse. Bergs has no idea what she's writing about. They call Claudia's sorrow beauty. I thought, "Oh Claudia, oh the Humanity".

The whole book is written in this whimsical-dazed fashion. It didn't leave me feeling good. I didn't learn anything, there wasn't any excitement. I wish I had watched TV or played video games instead (most of which have WAY better plots). This was NOT a feel-good book to me. It left me disturbed and sickened.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 17, 2010 – Shelved
June 17, 2010 – Finished Reading
January 29, 2012 – Shelved as: fiction

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen Wow. I think we read two different books by the same author. I loved Home Safe for its simplicity and for the way the characters were drawn so that I could picture them and feel like I actually knew them--even the ones I really like.

I enjoy a "deep" novel as much as the next reader but I also have a real appreciation for a good capturing of the mundane because the mundane can be pretty amazing.

I guess that's why there's vanilla and chocolate. We like what we like.


message 2: by Myth (last edited Mar 31, 2012 06:32PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Myth Thank you for commenting. There's not much for me to add. I think you hit the nail on the head.

We're two different people, who read the same book, but had differing opinions.

It's not that I entirely dislike simplicity, but I don't prefer it over complexity and being exposed to the new and difficult. I love having something to think about.

Additionally, I did not feel the closeness, simplicity or mundane of this book. It felt to me like a completely unbelievable fairy tale version of reality. Perhaps this is how reality appears to a romantic?

I can't relate to the characters at all. My life greatly contrasts.

I have to put forward an effort to make my life. I have to work, I have to pay for things, I have to make my own decisions and I have to put up with people I may not like. Even in "mundane" life, I have to deal with the occasional weirdos and strange, nearly unbelievable, situations.

Home Safe was like "comfort food". I do not eat for comfort. I eat because I'm hungry and sometimes because I have a craving for something (be it junk or w/e).


Mandy I liked the 'Mom. Mom, Mom' it spoke volumes about Tessa's imapatience with her Mum, and I began to find it quite endearing as the book went along - I thought that the relationship between a grown woman and her Mother who clings to closely to her was very well depicted in this book.


Mandy By the way, I have no argument with your review - but just wanted to make a comment as we had such different thoughts!


message 5: by Myth (last edited Mar 31, 2012 06:35PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Myth Manda wrote: "By the way, I have no argument with your review - but just wanted to make a comment as we had such different thoughts!"

Thank you for commenting and expressing your opinion in a polite manner. My feelings towards this book and this genre haven't changed since my review two years ago. But since there's been a lot of time between when I read it and now it has given me time to "sit with it" if you know what I mean. I don't have the knee-jerk response anymore, even though I've decided this genre simply isn't for me.

I didn't really think about the clingy aspect of Helen, but if that was a point it didn't surface for me. I also didn't "hear" the mom, mom, mom thing the way that I thought it was supposed to be, as I said in my original review. I still feel that way and I've become more picky about usage of details and grammar to form tone.

I read The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold a year before this book, apparently. When it comes to making me think about the relationship between parent and child... Almost Moon was twisted and ugly, but there's something authentic and lingering about Sebold's work. From a "like" perspective I didn't rate it very high. But if I could rate how much I respected The Almost Moon it would get a 6 out of 5. It left an impression on me and it wasn't subtle at all about making a person question the mother/daughter relationship.

Home Safe didn't leave an impression on me. It never comes to mind unless someone comments on my review or I read something similar. I'm glad I read it in that I gave this genre a try and expanded my knowledge of different kinds of writing, but I won't seek out novels like it. *shrug*

As I recall it, I know I was really irritated at how it seemed to bring up social issues and then go, "Psyche! Everything's perfect." In hindsight, I'm personally offended by this dismissal of these issues that came up. Could her daughter be lesbian, could the girl in her class actually be depressed and suicidal? It seemed to me it said, "It's okay, it's not actually like that, everything is perfect." That's upsetting to me, very upsetting. I know enough people suffering or who suffered from depression and also people who are not heterosexual and to me it seemed like the book was leading me on with what I think of as serious topics to sweep them under the rug. Maybe no one else read it that way, but I did.

I re-read my review here and I read Home Safe right after the Famished Road - which is about a boy connected to the spirit world living in a poverty stricken area of Africa that seems to be encroached upon by colonist (if I remember right.) That book was the type of book I needed to sit with for 6 months before picking something else up. It was a little devastating. I can't imagine anyone reading these two books close together and feeling bad for Helen or even feeling like her problem is a problem. I can't imagine it. I can't deal with it. I would not want to associate with the person who reads the Famished Road then Home Safe and pities Helen. I don't want to exists in the same world as that person.


Mandy Books speak to us all differently don't they, and as you say, I suppose it depends where you are coming from. I am coming at the book as a woman whose husband left her in 2010, and that affects my perception of Helen. I thought there was some poretty unbelievable stuff in the book (her husband is dead 11 months before they find out that 850K is missing?) but I didn't feel that she was particularly hopeless. All couples specialise - there will be something, or many things, that the absent partner prefered to do, or just did better, that the newly alone person has to re-learn. And dealing with it will leave them in tears, not necessarily because it is so difficult, but because doing that thing yourself makes it real that the other one has gone.

There are of course different degrees of awful - I haven't read The Famished Road - but I think there is a place in the world for a book about someone whose immediate grief has faded, but who is still struggling with how to live without her husband.

I do get you about the happy ever after ending, all tied up sweetly in a big bow, I even get annoyed at the same thing in different books, but Elizabeth Berg doesn't really do realism, her books are more old fashioned, so she gets a pass from me, though I have to be in the right mood to read her books.


message 7: by Myth (last edited Apr 01, 2012 04:27PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Myth It is fascinating in writing (and reading) fiction what people bring to the book and what they get out of it. I haven't had Helen's experience. I identified more with the daughter, though I've been fortunate in not losing anyone in my immediate family. One could argue that we haven't read the same book, because some amount of the context and material is brought in by the reader.

I don't think I had issues with the realism of this book as much as how the issues felt to me. The issues I mentioned were/are touchy subjects for me. But I don't relate to Helen, this book isn't geared to me (the market categories I'd fall into) and it was a random and unfortunate encounter.

I don't expect that all of Berg's work is like this. I've read other reviews by people who didn't like this particular book, but like Berg overall. The only assumption I might make off this book is, if the subject matter she uses is similar, her work probably isn't of any interest to me at the moment.

This has been an enlightening exchange, because I don't think before I considered that this book wasn't written "to me." Seeing as it comes off as a subgenre, there is probably a specific reader in mind for it. Though that's my assumption about it; I think that would make my English professors tear their hair out. They want students to read everything, consider it critical and write out a critical analysis to a specific audience. That would mark two major flaws in many of the reviews I do: 1- I don't consider who this could be for and 2- I don't consider the audience I'm invoking. It seems like any person's default would be to write to a person who is like them.

The obstacles presented by audience are those I hope to at least address in my reviews if not conquer with a clear and mindful rhetoric.


Mandy I'm glad we had this discussion, it made me think about how my response to the book was so linked to my experience. Thank you.


message 9: by Myth (new) - rated it 1 star

Myth Thank you too. :)


Shelley I agree. It seemed the writer had left over material and put the bits and pieces in different places in this book. If she could have written something in one wor, she chose twenty words instead. Boring. Shallow. Childish. Unrealistic.


Mandy Oh dear Rachel, your first sentence? Right back atcha. You are getting way too worked up about someone giving an honest opinion on a book they have read. Let's not forget that Goodreads is the right place for opinions about books, negative or positive, the wrong place for personal attacks on people, (not that I think a right place for that exists).


Mandy Oh dear Rachel again. The review above is not mine, I commented on it as I found it interesting.


Maryann Decicco I also thought Tessa might be a lesbian . And that possibly Claudia would commit suicide.


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