One-Minute Book Reviews

February 28, 2007

Delete Key Awards Finalist #2: ‘The Handmaid and the Carpenter’ by Elizabeth Berg

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:22 pm

“I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!”

— What Mary said to Joseph as envisioned by Elizabeth Berg

What made Elizabeth Berg think it would be a good idea to write a novel about the courtship of Mary and Joseph? Jospeh Bottum was right when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that The Handmaid and the Carpenter (Random House) “gushes with treacle” until Berg is delivering “truly mind-numbing goop.” The novel says that young Joseph “felt a stirring in his loins” when he thought of Mary. And Mary comes across as the Holy Land equivalent of a hot ticket: Berg casts her as a “flirtatious” girl who wasn’t above putting moves on Joseph: She had “brazenly put her hand on his knee long before it was time for such things.” Apart from any religious or historical issues all of this raises, this novel seemed more dumbed-down than any since Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, which is written at a third-grade level, according to the Microsoft Word readability statistics. So I entered few sections from The Handmaid and the Carpenter into my computer, ran the stats for them, and got grade levels of 3.8, 4.0, and 5.3, which averaged out to Grade 4.3. Maybe Berg should have called this novel For One More Day in Bethlehem?

Writing sample:
As Berg imagines it, Mary’s labor pains sped up while she and Joseph were looking for an inn. This causes Mary to screech at Joseph, “I am in agony, and I must ride endlessly on a donkey in search of something we cannot find!” As for the scene in which Mary and Joseph are in bed, let’s draw a veil over it. Suffice it to say that, by the time Joseph dies, we know that Mary was not a woman who was always saying, “Not tonight, Joseph, I have a headache.”

The grade levels of other authors appea in a review of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, appeared on Nov. 16 and is archived with the November posts and also in the “Novels” category on this site. The review tells how to use the Microsoft Word spell-checker to find the grade level of any text.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order and numbered only for convenience. This is the next to last finalist.The last should be announced by 5 p.m. Eastern time, or maybe 5 p.m. Central time if I get a little backed up.]


  1. i’ve read berg’s open house which was recommended by oprah’s book club, but i didn’t like it at all. this book sounds even worse than that!

    Comment by sulz — February 28, 2007 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  2. It’s great to have comments like yours. Elizabeth Berg is popular with other book clubs beside’s Oprah’s, and I’m not sure why. There are so many better writers that reading groups could read. Maybe if enough people leave comments like yours on blogs, it will encourage book clubs to consider authors their members might enjoy more? (I haven’t read “Open House,” but “The Handmaid and the Carpenter is much worse than the other books by Berg that I have read.)

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 28, 2007 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

  3. i love reading but i stay away from book clubs. for one, i’m the sort of reader who doesn’t like to be dictated what to read, even if it is for something fun like a book club. another is that i find that most book clubs love to suggest artsy fartsy books to read.

    open house is about a lady who is going through a divorce and because she has been a housewife for so long, she has no source of income and decides to rent some rooms in her house, which brings quirky characters and drama in her life. nothing you couldn’t find in the bookshop. maybe there are readers out there who like berg’s style and genre, but not for me.

    Comment by sulz — March 1, 2007 @ 2:20 am | Reply

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