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: 168,057
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(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.

Table of Contents

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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Open House 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 140 reviews.
musiqkid More than 1 year ago
At first it seemed like another book about a woman scorned but, I was pleasantly surprised to watch how she manages to find strength and pull herself out of the mess, and finally realizing who SHE was without her husband. Women really are the strongest of creation.
Annie11SW More than 1 year ago
Great read! For some reason, the story line hit home --- and I was drawn in from beginning to end.
BonnieNH More than 1 year ago
For any woman having a second chance at 'life'...very true painting of a marriage that fails, why it does so, how the children fare, the financial crises involved, old friends and new friends, and last, but not least the soul searching and emotions that are felt. I listened to this book on CD and enjoyed it so much, I listened a second time! I could totally relate. Highly recommended! I will read other books by this author in the future!
VeroniqueTX More than 1 year ago
Love ELizabeth Berg! I've read Home Safe and now Open House and look forward to reading more of hers. When I pick up one of her books, I find it hard to set it down until I've finished it! ENJOY!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good characters, but I have heard that kind of story before...
ReadingGalNJ More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, modern characters you can relate you & the winding path of a single Mom. Love all the characters & the true story of how we can all build a family & start over. Terrific Book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best all-time book I have ever read. Every character is great, real-life people I can relate to in my own circle of friends! The insight...outstanding! I laugh and become sad whenever I read this book. I finally bought my own copy and re-read it's the only book I have ever done that with. I would suggest this book to anyone.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While Samantha seems a little like a doormat (who would let their departing husband silence any discussion??) I like the way she slowly but surely begins to own herself - to make decisions based on what she wants - to admit to herself her likes and dislikes. I also liked it that she didn't hurt her child in the process. Sometimes in dealing with our own hurts, we forget about the little people we are responsible for, and I was glad that Sam didn't do that. A very affirming story.
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A moving story of the journey to wholeness of a woman whose sudden abandonment by her husband of 20 years upends her whole world.
punxsygal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Berg always gets into the hearts of her characters--real people, real situations in fiction. In Open House Samantha's husband of many years leaves her, heartbroken and lost. After a large spending spree at Tiffany's, Sam faces the cold fact that she must start to reconstruct a life for herself and her 11-year old son. To remain the house that has been her home, she takes in a couple of boarders. Lydia, the first boarder offers quiet, thoughtful advice and comfort. And a new friend, King, suggests that she get out, get going and get work. Sam begins to realize that she has to make her own happiness and reclaim the woman she was before she was David's wife. Berg presents fiction that contains real life lessons.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am going to open with ¿I really enjoyed this book.¿ I haven¿t been reading as much lately (thanks a lot 2008 Election!) and now that I can rest easy and get back to my real life¿this was a good book to start with.¿Open House¿ isn¿t a new story ¿ it¿s the story of a woman, Sam, who is blindsided when her husband asks for a divorce, who finds herself at a crossroads in her life, who is unsure what to do next, and who discovers a new side of herself with the help of old and new friends.The story has been told before, and will be told again¿but there are moments in this book that really made it stand out. The author moves the story along well, and I enjoyed the characters (though they might be a bit stock¿gay hairdresser, eccentric mother, husband who finds a new young girlfriend¿), but it was the small moments of brilliance that made this book for me.Some are just funny. After Sam¿s mother tries to mend her (then) teenager¿s broken heart with a pair of pedal pushers¿¿When we were roommates in college, Rita had once asked, extremely gently, if my mother was mentally retarded, ¿No¿, I said. ¿Just¿Southern.¿ That was the only explanation I could come up with at the time. And I still make do with it.¿Some catch the reader off guard in the most honest of ways. ¿I wash up and go into my bedroom, intent on reading one of the new books I bought the other day. I turn back the bedclothes, and then, just like that, all the good feeling I¿ve built up that day seems to drain out the soles of my feet. I stand there for a while. And then I get down on my knees, and whisper, Help me into my folded hands.¿And ¿I don¿t hold Travis (her son) anymore, of course ¿ not to read to him, or for any other reason, either. I wish I¿d known that the last time was going to be the last time. But of course that information would have been as painful as this moment.¿And ¿This is my new life: I push pain away all day, and the moment I put my arms down it walks into me and has a seat.¿I like that Sam¿s journey takes a realistic path. Instead of a more traditional denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance¿she experiences all of the feelings at different times. As above, she can have a great day and then have that wash away in a moment. She can be experiencing waves of sorrow or guilt and still take a small piece of beauty from a moment.¿I stare wearily at the kitchen table, at the swatch of sunlight that lies over the basket of paper napkins. The pattern on the napkins is illuminated; white-on-white roses. I never saw those roses before. I have lived my life blind.¿And gradually, she takes all of these little moments, whether they come from inside or from someone else, and starts to rebuild. ¿Sometimes I want to say, ¿It¿s all right. You don¿t have to say that. I¿m not so sad today.¿ But I never do. Instead, I save his confidence in me as though his words were silver dollars, knotted in a silk scarf and kept hidden in a dresser drawer.¿ And although most of her emotions are focused on herself and her son¿this emotional roller coaster does offer her views of those she loves that she never would have seen otherwise. Her eccentric mother? Turns out she is a woman who just like Sam, has experienced grief and pain, and who did the best she could for her children in the face of it.¿What occurs to me, now, is that what my mother had been doing all that time was weeping. With astonishing quiet. And that when she was done, she¿d washed her face, fixed her hair, put on lipstick, and then gone out to the kitchen. She turned the radio on low and then made dinner so that it would be ready when it always was¿.But what did (she) Veronica do after she put us to bed? I wonder know. And I imagine a mother who took a mask off her face, then pushed hard into a pillow to weep for the loss of her husband, for the loss of the life she was supposed to have, for the only man she ever ¿ I actually gasp, thinking this now ¿ loved.¿Disguised as a painf
artikaur on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite an entertaining read, this book takes an honest look at one woman's life as she struggles to come to terms with her impending divorce. A nice short read.
susannaheanes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked it. I felt brave for picking it up, bringing it home, because my husband had just told me he wanted a divorce, and the central character of the book is going through a similarly served entree, and I just felt like I wanted to see what it would be like when someone you really love leaves you. Live it vicariously, see if I was brave enough. Because I was seriously considering jumping off a bridge, and I wanted to see how someone might go through it and actually come out on the other side.Mind you, if hubby hadn't said it, I probably would not have picked up this book. But he did, and I felt woefully unarmed, unable, unwilling to go through all that. So I read the book.I loved the characters, with all their flaws that are not too cliche, too predictable. I love that she made some difficult decisions, fell flat on her face, picked herself up again, tried harder.I love that the person she falls in love with about 3/4 of the way through this book is not perfect.I love that she refuses to be alone as much as possible, by renting her home to a wonderful diversity of human beings, and that when she must be alone, she cries and lives through it. I needed that grounding, that soulful peace.This book is probably not for everyone. This weekend, my husband said he was sorry, that he took it back - and it wasn't too late; I only lived for five days with this grief and worry.Long enough to read this book, and to know that it is not a human failing to want more. And that life is a river, that we all want the same things: to be wanted, to reflect on things and find understanding in another person.
Brandie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Okay book for me. I can see why others would like it. Berg is a fabulous writer, but this book was so far from me and my life that it was just okay.
raeldrele on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It seems like, for a young twenty-somthing, I read a LOT of divorcee/mid-life crisis novels. This novel was worth it and kept me engaged in the story until the end. I listened to it as a playaway audio book while traveling from Seattle to Portland. There were multiple points throughout the book where I would giggle uncontrollablely at the story or character and then stop the playaway and explain to my husband what was so funny.
tmbcoughlin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
easy read. a woman, sam, who does not work and has an 11 year old son has just separted from her husband by his choice. You have a window to her steaming thoughts as she deals with her anguish and moving on with her life shortly after the separation along with her gaining independence and self-esteem. It was a little difficult at first to embrace the main character; I, being the same age as the character, felt out of touch with her. Once I realized the book takes place in an earlier time (copy right 2000), I was better able to accept her position.
orangewords on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit predictable and difficult to get into, (I didn't connect with the protagonist for at least the first twenty-five pages), but ultimately a very good book. Moving without being cheesy, which is really saying something! A great book which deals with the topic of loss.
Deesirings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Such real, memorable characters. I really feel like I got to know the people in this short book about a woman's life post-divorce.
lincroft on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found the main character maddening. Her whining was tiring. It got better toward the end but only because she found a replacement male. I didn't like this book.
KAPaulsen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this book from one of my best girlfriends who likes to read sad, sad novels. After the first few chapters, I wondered how she came to give me the recommendation of the book being "stellar." Seeing the book's relationships unfold between Sam and her mother, her husband David, friends new and old, her son and multiple tenants was interesting. It had me looking introspectively at all my relationships, current and past, and thinking about the different life events that have shaped each one.I would recommend this book for readers who like most of Oprah's Book Club books. Potentially a non-recommend for someone who has gone through a painful divorce, as some parts of the book are rather raw. Once I got through the first third of the book, it went along smoothly and was an interesting read.Overall: Slow start with a few story-line bumps along the way that I did not care for, but a good story of survival, rolling with the punches and life changes that shape who we are, no matter how much we resist.
bibliophileofalls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book, fast read. All about divorce and separation.
Bonni208 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once again, Berg does not disappoint. Each of her books I've read has a captivating story line and strong character development. We all get to know the narrator, along with the eclectic mix of people she takes on as boarders, following her divorce.
eliza_jane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book! You are drawn into the story of a newly divorced mother, Samantha, as she struggles with raising her son and finding herself. Lessons are realized when Samantha rents a spare bedroom in her house to an elderly widow. Samantha must learn how to cope with her new reality or lose what little family she has left.
Carmenere on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Open House is the story of Samantha Morrow's pathetic attempt to keep her husband from divorcing her and continue living as she and their son, Travis had come to expect. Although their marriage appeared stable to her, David, her husband, believes they have nothing in common. At the onset I must admit I despised "Sam". Totally dependant upon her husband she comes across as needy, prejudicial, impetuous and insecure. I found her unsuccessful attempts to draw her husband back into her life and their home were absolutely pathetc. Author, Elizabeth Berg, has me believing that a long, hot contemplative bath will somehow cleanse Sam of her sorry self and take control of ther situation - alas, it does not. Perhaps it is Travis' request to live with his father that is the catalyst that moves her to let go of the past. His request was heartbreaking and was the moment when I finally sympathized with Sam and began liking her just a little bit.Could it be that what she wants in life is what her mother, Veronica had once known and boarder, Lydia has just regained? Undying, eternal love? Perhaps it is not so distant nor unattainable as she believes.By story's end, I had grown to like Samvery much and had hope that she had found her way. Berg is such a talented writer, she can make the reader gasp and laugh in the same paragraph. She subtly turns Sam from a distressed, no talent, domestic princess into a stronger more empowered woman who can see life does not end when a marriage ends.If this is an example of Berg's work I most certainly wish to read more.... and soon.
BinnieBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Berg has done it again! Written a book with wit and sensitivity with a sense of reality to it. I loved it!