Until The Real Thing Comes Along: A Novel by Elizabeth BergUntil The Real Thing Comes Along: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg

Until The Real Thing Comes Along: A Novel

byElizabeth Berg

Paperback | June 6, 2000

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Patty Murphy is facing that pivotal point in a woman's life when her biological clock ticks as insistently as a beating heart. Will she find Mr. Right and start a family? But Patty is in love--with a man who is not only attractive and financially sound, but sensitive and warmhearted. There's just one small problem: He is also gay.

Against her better judgment, and pleas from family and friends, Patty refuses to give up on Ethan. Every man she dates ultimately leaves her aching for the gentle comfort and intimacy she shares with him. But even as she throws eligible bachelors to the wayside to spend yet another platonic night with Ethan, Patty longs more and more for the consolation of loving and being loved. In the meantime she must content herself with waiting--until the real thing comes along. . . .
Elizabeth Berg’s novels Open House, The Pull of the Moon, Range of Motion, What We Keep, Never Change, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along were bestsellers. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. Talk Before Sleep was an ABBY finalist and a New York Times bestseller. In 1997, Berg won the NEBA Award ...
Title:Until The Real Thing Comes Along: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:272 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.6 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.1 × 0.6 inPublished:June 6, 2000Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:034543739X

ISBN - 13:9780345437396


Read from the Book

I used to think that the best thing to do when you had the blues was to soak in a bathtub full of hot water, submerge yourself so that only the top half of your head was in the outer world. You could feel altered and protected. Weightless. You could feel mysterious, like a crocodile, who is bound up with the wisdom of the natural world and does not concern herself with the number of dates she has per month or the biological time clock. You could feel purified by the rising steam. Best of all, you could press a washrag across your chest, and it would feel like the hand of your mother when you were little and suffering from a cold, and she'd lay her flat palm on you to draw the sickness out. The problem with the bathtub method is that you have to keep fooling with the faucet to keep the water temperature right, and that breaks the healing spell. Besides that, as soon as you get out of the tub the solace disappears as quickly as the water, and you are left with only your annoying lobster self, staring blankly into the mirror. These days I believe that museums are the place to go to lose your sorrow. Fine-art museums with high ceilings and severe little boxes mounted on the wall to measure the level of humidity; rooms of furniture displayed so truly the people seem to have just stepped out for a minute; glass cases full of ancient pottery in the muted colors of old earth. There are mummies, wearing the ultimate in long-lasting eyeliner; old canvases that were held between the hands of Vermeer; new canvases with emphatic smears of paint. The cafés have pastry as artful as anything else in the building; gift shops are stocked with jewelry modeled after the kind worn by Renaissance women--the garnet-and-drop-pearl variety. I buy that kind of jewelry, in love with its romantic history and the sight of it against the black velvet. Then I bring it home and never wear it because it looks stupid with everything I have. But it is good to own anyway, for the pleasure of laying it on the bedspread and then sitting beside it, touching it. What I like most about museums is that the efforts of so many people remain so long after they are gone. They made their marks. If you are an artist, you can hope to achieve that. If you are not an artist, you believe that having children is the closest you'll come. Well, that's what I believe. And anyway, I have always preferred the company of children; I just like to be around them. Whenever my large family gets together on holidays, I sit at the kids' card table. It's so much more relaxing, what with the way the dishes are plastic, and manners of any kind optional. So much more interesting, too--no talk about current events, no holding forth by any overweight, overeducated aunt or uncle. There is talk only about things that are astonishing. Facts about the red ant, say, or the elaborate retelling of an unfortunate incident, such as the one where a kid vomited on the teacher's desk. I always thought I'd have five or six children, and I have imagined so many lovely domestic scenes featuring me and my offspring. Here we are outside on a hot summer day, running through the sprinkler. The children wear bright fluorescent bathing suits in pink and green and yellow; I wear cutoffs and a T-shirt. There is fruit salad in the refrigerator. Later, I will let the older kids squirt whipped cream for the younger ones; then, if they pester me enough in the right way, I'll let them squirt it into their mouths--and mine. Or here I am at the grocery store, my married hands unloading graham crackers and packages of American cheese that have already been broken into due to the eager appetite of the toddler in the carriage, who is dressed in tiny OshKosh overalls over a striped shirt. His fine hair, infused with gold and red, curls up slightly at the back of his neck. His swinging feet are chubby and bare; he has flung his sneakers and socks on top of the family-size pack of chicken breasts. His brothers and sisters are in school. Later in the afternoon, he will stand at the living-room window, watching for them to come home, squealing and bending his knees in a little joy dance when he sees them marching down the sidewalk toward him, swinging their lunch boxes in high, bright-colored arcs. I have imagined myself making dinner while my dark-haired daughter sits at the kitchen table. She is making me a picture of a house with window boxes, choosing crayons with slow care. She is wearing yellow turtle barrettes in her hair, and a bracelet she made from string. "Hey, Mommy," she says, "do you want flowers on the ground, too?" Oh yes, I say. Sure. "Me too," she says. We smile. I have imagined a fleshy constellation of small children and me, spread out and napping on my big bed while the newest baby sleeps in her crib. The pulled-down shades lift with the occasional breeze, then slap gently back against the windowsill. If you listen carefully, you can hear the small breathing sounds of the children, their soothing, syncopated rhythms. There is no other sound, not even from the birds; the afternoon is holding its finger to its lips. All the children have blankets and all of them are sucking their thumbs. All of them are read to every night after their baths. All of them think they are the favorite. None of them has ever had an illness of any kind, or ever will. (I mean, as long as I'm imagining.)

Bookclub Guide

1. In the prologue Patty describes her "house game," a game about choice and commitment that reveals the "characteristic" Patty likes most about herself [page 3]. What is this characteristic? Is it the characteristic that you admire most about Patty?2. How is Patty's work as a real estate agent related to the "house game" she describes? Why is she such a "lousy" [page 16] real estate agent? What significance do houses have for Patty? For her clients? For her family?3. The novel records Patty's glimpses into others' relationships--her parents' relationship, Artie and Muriel Berkenheimer's relationship. How do these relationships serve as models for Patty? In what ways do these relationships exceed her expectations? In what ways do they fall short?4. As Patty describes her parents' marriage, she insists that "everything they have, I want" [page 46]. Still, she's surprisingly unaware of the details of their courtship and life together. She didn't know that they had fallen in love at first sight [page 44]. She hadn't heard that they never had a honeymoon [page 152]. Does this lack of awareness surprise you? Why? Why not?5. Is Patty similarly unaware of events in the lives of her dearest friends? Why? Why not?6. Although intimacy with her dearest friends and family members seems, at times, to be a real struggle for Patty, she is surprisingly intimate with her real estate clients, neighbors, and her manicurist. Artie Berkenheimer invites Patty to use his "breast glasses" [page 84], Sophia predicts Patty's pregnancy [page 118], and Amber offers friendship as well as advice [page 187]. What makes Patty so successful at establishing intimacy in these unexpected moments?7. Patty admits that "sometimes it's hard to be [Elaine's] friend. A lot its hard to be her friend" [page 29]. Why is it hard? Do you blame Patty or Elaine for the rifts in their friendship? How satisfying is the friendship they offer to one another? What are the barriers to their friendship? Are these barriers surmountable?8. Ethan and Elaine are united in encouraging Patty to pursue her relationship with Mark. Ethan encourages Patty to "just try" to make the relationship work [page 56], while Elaine insists that Mark is "the best thing" to happen to Patty in a long while [page 60]. Does Patty "try" to make the relationship work? Do you sympathize with Ethan and Elaine's insistence that Patty "try" harder? Or do you sympathize with Patty? Why?9. Patty admits that she had never known the "real" Ethan during their engagement. She "could get close, but not there" [page 11]. Does she ever know the "real" Ethan? Does she ever feel that Ethan knows her "real" self?10. Patty and Ethan both have certain hopes and expectations about the relationship a straight woman can have with a gay man. At what moments do these hopes or expectations converge? At what moments are they clearly in conflict? Is Patty fair to Ethan? Is Ethan fair to Patty?11. Ethan insists that Patty's behavior during the pregnancy is "definitely" [page 170] his business. Is it? What claims does he have on her behavior? What control should he be able to exert over Patty's life? Over their daughter's life?12. In a disturbingly frank conversation, Amber tells Patty that she feels Ethan is "running away from something" [page 186] by moving to Minneapolis. Although Patty dismisses Amber's comment, she later questions Ethan about his motives [page 192]. What are Ethan's motives for moving? What are Patty's motives?13. Patty insists that she wants a conventional home. She says, "I thought all you needed was a husband, a house, children, and a decent oven, and you could be happy" [page 50]. However, the life she creates for herself is anything but conventional. How do her parents and friends respond? Are you surprised by Patty's choices? Are you surprised by others' responses? Why? Why not?14. Amber offers Patty a firm and difficult directive--"Be careful with your heart, kid" [page 187]. Is this possible for Patty? For any woman? What are the risks of failing to follow Amber's directive? What are the risks of succeeding?15. When Patty's father tells Patty of her mother's Alzheimer's disease, she realizes that she had known all along. When did you know? Why didn't Patty acknowledge what she knew?16. As Patty's pregnancy advances, she becomes increasingly aware of human mortality. Artie Berkenheimer acknowledges his cancer. Patty's mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Ethan's friends struggle with AIDS. How does this overwhelming awareness of disease and death impact Patty's experience of pregnancy? How does it shape the expectations she has of relationships?17. In the early paragraphs of the novel, Patty distinguishes between what is imaginary and what is true. Although she acknowledges that she has a rich imagination, she admits that "what I never imagined was the truth" [page 8]. How powerful is imagination? What are the limits of imagination?18. The novel's concluding image, "the creak of the rocker, the luscious fact of my sleeping daughter . . ." [page 240], is extraordinarily reminiscent of an earlier, imagined scene, "Here I am in a little bedroom in my little cottage . . ." [page 16]. In this way, the novel demands that we compare the real world Patty has built for herself with the imaginary world she had envisioned. How do these worlds--imaginary, real--compare?19. Why is the novel titled Until the Real Thing Comes Along? What is the "real thing"? Does the "real thing," in fact, "come along"? Does Patty's definition of the "real thing" change over the course of the novel? Does yours?20. Patty imagines that God's definition of "human beings" is that "they are supposed to make what they want out of what they are given" [page 240]. Is this a definition with which you agree? How successful a human being is Patty?

From Our Editors

Real-estate agent Patty Anne Murphy is 36, single and badly wants to have a child. With no romantic or familial prospects in sight and her biological clock ticking like a time bomb, there’s only one feasible solution: plead with her gay best friend to be a daddy. Honest, funny and endearing, Until the Real Thing Comes Along is an irresistible tale of life, love and the things that are most important to us. Award-winner and best-selling author Elizabeth Berg’s Ballantine Reader’s Circle Selection is conversational in style and immensely readable.

Editorial Reviews

"Touching . . . [A] deft, sweet, and often comic novel."--Chicago Tribune"THIS NOVEL MAKES FOR PLEASANT READING . . . PATTY MURPHY IS APPEALINGLY VULNERABLE. . . . NOVELIST ELIZABETH BERG HAS AN ENGAGING VOICE AND STYLE."--Los Angeles Times"A PERCEPTIVE COMEDY OF MODERN MANNERS . . . At the end of each undemanding day, Patty goes home to an empty apartment and listens to her biological clock ticking as ominously as Captain Hook's crocodile. . . . Patty wants a husband and a baby, and not necessarily in that order. . . . But Patty has a problem. Try as she might, there is only one man she can love--her best friend, Ethan--and try as Ethan might, he is quite firmly and intractably gay. With rueful good humor, Until the Real Thing Comes Along shows how Patty and Ethan come to terms with the impossibility of having it all."--The Boston Globe"BERG WRITES WITH HUMOR AND UNDERSTANDING ABOUT MATTERS OF THE HEART. . . . The author's generous view of humanity is evident in her characters, who walk right off the page they are so well and truly drawn."--St. Louis Post Dispatch"ENTERTAINING . . . FLAWLESS DIALOGUE . . . READING IT IS LIKE EAVESDROPPING ON AN INTIMATE FEMALE CHAT."--New York Daily News"COMPELLING . . . [A] WARMLY TOLD TALE."--People