Open House

Open House

by Elizabeth Berg


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In this superb novel by the beloved author of Talk Before Sleep, The Pull of the Moon, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along, a woman re-creates her life after divorce by opening up her house and her heart.
Samantha's husband has left her, and after a spree of overcharging at Tiffany's, she settles down to reconstruct a life for herself and her eleven-year-old son. Her eccentric mother tries to help by fixing her up with dates, but a more pressing problem is money. To meet her mortgage payments, Sam decides to take in boarders. The first is an older woman who offers sage advice and sorely needed comfort; the second, a maladjusted student, is not quite so helpful. A new friend, King, an untraditional man, suggests that Samantha get out, get going, get work. But her real work is this: In order to emerge from grief and the past, she has to learn how to make her own happiness. In order to really see people, she has to look within her heart. And in order to know who she is, she has to remember—and reclaim—the person she used to be, long before she became someone else in an effort to save her marriage. Open House is a love story about what can blossom between a man and a woman, and within a woman herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345435163
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2001
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 116,069
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

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 in fiction, and in 2000 her novel Open House was named an Oprah’s Book Club selection. She lives in Chicago.


Chicago, Illinois

Date of Birth:

December 2, 1948

Place of Birth:

St. Paul, Minnesota


Attended the University of Minnesota; St. Mary¿s College, A.A.S.

Read an Excerpt


You know before you know, of course. You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets, and the knowledge walks up your backbone. You stare at the man you love and you are staring at nothing: he is gone before he is gone.

The last time I tried to talk to David was a couple of weeks ago. We were in the family room—David in his leather recliner, me stretched out on the sofa. Travis was asleep—he'd had his eleventh birthday party that afternoon, the usual free-for-all, and had fallen into bed exhausted. The television was on, but neither of us was watching it—David was reading the newspaper and I was rehearsing.

Finally, "David?" I said.

He looked up.

I said, "You know, you're right in saying we have some serious problems. But there are so many reasons to try to work things out." I hoped my voice was pleasant and light. I hoped my hair wasn't sticking up or that my nose didn't look too big and that I didn't look fat when I sat up a bit to adjust the pillow.

"I was wondering," I said, "if you would be willing to go to see someone with me, just once. A marriage counselor. I really think—"

" Samantha," he said.

And I said, "Okay."

He returned to the paper, and I returned to lying on the sofa, to falling down an elevator shaft. There were certain things I could not think about but kept thinking about anyway: how to tell the people I'd have to tell. How lonely the nights would be (that was a very long elevator shaft). How I believed so hard and for so long that we would be able to overcome everything, and now I would have to admit that we could not. How wrenching it is when the question you want to ask is "Why don't you want me?" but you cannot ask it and yet you do not ask—or talk about—anything else.

"David?" I said again, but this time he did not look up.

Reading Group Guide

1. On the morning that Sam acknowledges that she will be get-ting a divorce, she begins to act like "the new me" (5). Of course, the divorce will change Sam, but how does this "new me" of the first morning differ from the woman she will eventually become?

2. On this first morning, Sam acts as she imagines Martha Stewart would. Later, she wants to talk with Martha Stewart although even Travis assures her that "everybody" hates Martha Stewart
(167). Why? What is Martha Stewart a symbol of? Why is Sam suddenly so interested in her? Is it actually Martha Stewart who calls Sam?

3. Sam has rather definite ideas about what Travis's mother ought to be like. "His mother," she insists, "should know what she's doing" (58). Does Sam know what she's doing? Is she a good mother to Travis?

4. Sam's relationship with her own mother is a difficult one. Her frustration with Veronica's "constant, crazy cheerfulness" (88)
is matched only by Veronica's frustration with Sam's need to
"revel" in "misery" (49). Still, Sam acknowledges that "at the heart of things, I am my mother's daughter" (133). How alike are Sam and Veronica? In what ways are they different?

5. Open House is marked with moments in which Sam's family and friends offer their memories of Sam's past with David. Rita admits that she "never" liked David (35). David insists that he and Sam "just never really connected" (132). Even Sam acknowledges that she doesn't think David "ever loved me" (39),
although she stops herself from saying that she "never loved him" (93). How accurate are these memories-Rita's, David's,
Sam's-of the past? Is hindsight 20/20?

6. In a difficult conversation about their separate lives, Sam wants to warn David. "Doesn't he understand," she wonders, "that if he doesn't stop this, it will be too late?" (130). In this very moment,
however, Sam mourns that it "is too late" (130). When does Sam realize that it is "too late" for her to save her marriage?
When did you realize this?

7. During a particularly lonely evening, Sam enters Lydia's room in an attempt to "wrap" herself "in the comfort of someone else's life" (82). Is this possible? How does it happen?

8. Although Sam longs for a "real open house" (196), her mother,
her son, and her best friend are wary of her decision to "open
[her] house to strangers" (49). Why is the novel titled Open
House? Who are the "strangers" in Sam's home?

9. Although Sam reads through the personal ads with both Lydia and Rita, she seems rather skeptical of their promises. Are personal ads inevitably dishonest? What would an honest personal ad sound like?

10. As Sam listens to her mother describe the moment in which,
ironing a shirt, she realized just how much she loved Sam's father,
Sam acknowledges that she appreciates such "evidence of love." What is this "evidence of love"? Is it absent between
Sam and David? What "evidence of love" exists between Sam and King?

11. Sam insists that her decision to get divorced is marked both by moments that are "awful" and moments that are "ecstatic" (53).
Which moments predominate? Do you feel that Sam made the right decision?

12. After taking Sam to the employment agency, King thanks Sam.
It is a gesture Sam doesn't understand. What is King thanking her for? Why doesn't Sam understand?

13. King explains to Sam that, following a disastrous relationship in college, he turned away from individuals to science. "Every-thing is there, in science" (201). However, Sam insists on the strength and superiority of "human connection" (197). In what ways does King find "science" all-fulfilling? What does Sam seek through "human connection"?

14. At one moment in the novel, Sam contemplates the reality that "you live your life, and you get to ask for things, and some-times they are given to you" (167). What does Sam ask for?
What is she given?

15. Throughout Open House, Sam experiences moments of wishing she "believed" and that she "could pray" (198). Sam whispers
"Help me" into "folded hands" (42) and offers a "type of prayer"
over her solitary Thanksgiving dinner (140). In the last sentences of the novel, she feels "full of faith, blessed by it" (241).
What does Sam have faith in?

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