The novel is a bittersweet tale of a woman who, when she inherits a trunk of a dear friend’s journals, charges herself with the task of uncovering who her friend really was – the true self that lay beneath the polished veneer she showed to the world.
Here’s how I introduced Nichole:
In this novel, Kate Spenser inherits a trunk of journals written by her friend Elizabeth Martin. When Elizabeth dies unexpectedly in an accident, she leaves behind a husband, three children, and these journals that span decades. But, what of her legacy? Kate tries to piece together a full portrait of her friend, by learning of her life from childhood forward.
Of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., New York Times best-selling novelist J. Courtney Sullivan says it “manages to be both a compelling mystery and a wise meditation on friendship, marriage and motherhood in an age of great anxiety.”
A little “inside publishing” for you: bookstore staff are often given the opportunity to read preview editions of books before they’re available for sale. This gives us the chance to make decisions about which books will be a good fit for our customers, and to share our thoughts with other booksellers. This is my preview copy of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., where I’ve marked many pages and passages that struck me. [I wish I hadn't yet pulled all those Post-Its and corners torn from the newspaper ... the book was jam-packed with place-holders, and would have made a telling photo!]. And here’s the recommendation I made to other booksellers, I wrote:
“With characters as sharp as photographs, Nichole Bernier zooms in on the truth: that there are secrets that many women hold to themselves, reluctant to reveal them to even their spouses or closest friends. As Kate delves into Elizabeth’s journals in an attempt to understand that which her friend held close, we also discover Kate’s hidden self, and perhaps our own. Whether these hidden things are ambition (one one end), fear and insecurity (on the other), or something else on that spectrum, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. shows the delicate balance of fierceness and fragility many women carry.”
If I can take that metaphor a step further, in the novel, Nichole Bernier reveals not only those sharp images of personality, but the way in which Kate, Elizabeth, and perhaps even the reader “Instagram” themselves – cropping here, adding an effect there, highlighting or distorting that which they want to emphasize or detract from. This is not necessarily of mal-intent … it’s simply survival.
Nichole is not only a talented novelist, she’s an advocate for indie bookstores and other authors, spreading the word about hidden gems and the craft of writing on “Beyond the Margins” a literary blog she co-founded.
Before turning to fiction, she wrote for several magazines, and was a 14-year contributing editor to Conde Nast Traveler. Nichole was given an award for literary journalism when she received her master’s degree from Columbia University. She lives west of Boston with her husband and five children, and I hope that during the Q&A period today she’ll share some of her multi-tasking secrets with us!
And, yes, she did answer questions – quite a range – about the novel itself (Kate’s personality vs. Elizabeth’s), her writing process (she started by writing all the journal entries in order; then she had to pull it all apart), the question of how she wrote with such a busy household (her answer credited her husband and a list of writers who’ve offered feedback and encouragement), and how she moved from journalism to writing fiction (it was a natural move, as much of her previous work was narrative journalism).
I was so taken by this novel (I finished it on a weekend morning, and sent out a tweet that I couldn’t finish my coffee because I was crying; they were wholly satisfying tears!), and by the author’s poise at the event. Nichole was only five days post-publication at this point, and I imagine it had been a whirlwind five days! She’s not slowing down, and has a full event schedule listed on her web page. Do check it out, as it includes readings from Vermont to Virginia, California to Cape Cod … if you get the opportunity to attend one of Nichole Bernier’s events, you’ll be glad you did (and, a bonus if any of her cute kids are in the audience, too).