Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We are All Welcome Here (Copy)

Author Elizabeth Berg received a letter in 2003 requesting she write the story of polio survivor, Pat Raming. The letter, written by Pat’s youngest daughter, Marianne Raming Burke, began, “I have no idea if you get this type of request often, however what is life without risks?”

Fiction writer Berg was ready to pass on the request, believing a non-fiction author would better suit Mrs. Burke’s needs. In the Author’s Note, Berg states, “I don’t like to take ideas from anyone—it goes best when I work alone.”

Yet, she could not stop looking at the photograph enclosed in the letter. The picture depicts a wheelchair-bound, young mother and sweet, curly-blonde daughter in front of their ranch home in California. “I was so taken with the lack of pity and the strength and joy I believed I saw on her face," Berg wrote in an e-mail.

Four days before Marianne’s birth in 1952, her mother contracted polio that placed her in an iron lung. Marianne, the youngest of three, believes she is the only baby to survive an iron lung birth. Marianne added, "They had her funeral ready and mine."

To make matters worse, Mr. Raming suggested they put their children up for adoption. The cause of their immediate divorce, Pat vehemently denied this insensitive request. It was now Pat’s responsibility to raise three children, all under the age of six, within her wheelchair-toting, portable lung.

Although the book, We are All Welcome Here, is based on this true story, it is purely fictional. Berg, who likes to explore mother-daughter relationships in her novels, has chosen polio-stricken mother, Paige Dunn, and only child, Diana Dunn, as her main characters.

In the summer of 1964, 14-year-old Diana is the primary night caregiver to Paige. It’s another grueling summer in Tupelo, Mississippi, not only for the heat but also the simmering discourse between the races. There are three individuals in the Dunn household struggling with freedom issues: Paige, Diana, and the house cleaner, Peacie.

This is unlike any book Elizabeth Berg has written. She seems to rush through this story, as if she has a train to catch. The plot is predictable, yet, I can’t taint a woman who adds Elvis to her mix of characters. If anything, pick it up for the local flavor, it only takes a day to read.

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