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“I dare you to read this novel and not fall in love with Arthur Truluv. His story will make you laugh and cry, and will show you a love that never ends, and what it means to be truly human.”—Fannie Flagg
An emotionally powerful novel about three people who each lose the one they love most, only to find second chances where they least expect them
“Fans of Meg Wolitzer, Emma Straub, or [Elizabeth] Berg’s previous novels will appreciate the richly complex characters and clear prose. Redemptive without being maudlin, this story of two misfits lucky to have found one another will tug at readers’ heartstrings.”—Booklist
For the past six months, Arthur Moses’s days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden and to Gordon, his cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life.
Eighteen-year-old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur—a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. Moved by Arthur’s kindness and devotion, Maddy gives him the nickname “Truluv.” As Arthur’s neighbor Lucille moves into their orbit, the unlikely trio band together and, through heartache and hardships, help one another rediscover their own potential to start anew.
Wonderfully written and full of profound observations about life, The Story of Arthur Truluv is a beautiful and moving novel of compassion in the face of loss, of the small acts that turn friends into family, and of the possibilities to achieve happiness at any age.
Praise for The Story of Arthur Truluv
“For several days after [finishing The Story of Arthur Truluv], I felt lifted by it, and I found myself telling friends, also feeling overwhelmed by 2017, about the book. Read this, I said, it will offer some balance to all that has happened, and it is a welcome reminder we’re all neighbors here.”—Chicago Tribune
“Not since Paul Zindel’s classic The Pigman have we seen such a unique bond between people who might not look twice at each other in real life. This small, mighty novel offers proof that they should.”—People, Book of the Week
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Story of Arthur Truluv
In the six months since the November day that his wife, Nola, was buried, Arthur Moses has been having lunch with her every day. He rides the bus to the cemetery and when he gets there, he takes his sweet time walking over to her plot: she will be there no matter when he arrives. She will be there and be there and be there.
Today he lingers near the headstone of Adelaide Marsh, two rows over from Nola, ten markers down. Adelaide was born April 3, 1897, died November 18, 1929. Arthur does the math, slowly. Thirty-two. Then he calculates again, because he thinks it would be wrong to stand near someone’s grave thinking about how old they were the day they died and be off by a year. Or more. Math has always been difficult for Arthur, even on paper; he describes himself as numerically illiterate. Nola did the checkbook, but now he does. He tries, anyway; he gets out his giant-size calculator and pays a great deal of attention to what he’s doing, he doesn’t even keep the radio on, but more often than not he ends up with astronomically improbable sums. Sometimes he goes to the bank and they help him, but it’s an embarrassment and an inconvenience. “We all have our gifts,” Nola used to say, and she was right. Arthur’s gift is working the land; he was a groundskeeper for the parks before he retired many years ago. He still keeps a nice rose garden in the front of his house; the vegetable garden in the back he has let go.
But yes, thirty-two is how old Adelaide Marsh was when she died. Not as heartbreakingly young as the children buried here, but certainly not yet old. In the middle, that’s what she was. In the middle of raising her family (Beloved Mother on her tombstone) and then what? Death, of course, but how? Was it childbirth? He thinks that she was doing something in the service of her family, that she was healthy until the moment she died, and then succumbed to an accident or a sudden insult to the body. He also thinks she had bright red hair that she wore up, and tiny tendrils escaped to frame her face, which pleased both her and her husband. He feels he knows this.
It is happening more and more often, this kind of thing. It is happening more and more that when he stands beside a grave, his hat in his hand, part of a person’s life story reaches him like the yeasty scent from the bakery he passes every day on his way to the bus stop. He stares at the slightly depressed earth over Adelaide’s grave and here comes the pretty white lace dress she loved best, the inequality in the size of her eyes so light brown they were almost yellow. Tea-colored. It comes that her voice was high and clear, that she was shy to sing for her husband, but did so anyway. She did it at night, after they’d gone to bed; the night before she died, she lay in the darkness beside him and sang “Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time.”
And now this: she had a small diamond ring that was her mother’s engagement ring, and Adelaide wore it on a thin gold chain around her neck. It was too small for her finger, and besides, she wanted to keep it close to her heart. Her knuckles were reddened from bleach, her back bothered her from bending over the washtub to scrub her children clean, but she would let no one else do it; she loved the sight of them wet, their curly hair now plastered straight against their skulls, their cheeks pinkened by the warmth of the water; she loved the way she could hold them close for a long time, like babies, when they stepped out of the water and into her arms, into the blue towel she opened to them like a great bird spreading its wings. No. The towel was not blue. What color was it?
What color was it?
Nothing. That’s it for today. Arthur puts his hat back on his head, tips it toward Adelaide Marsh’s headstone, and moves along. Horace Newton. Estelle McNeil. Irene Sutter. Amos Hammer.
When he reaches Nola’s grave, Arthur opens his fold-up chair and gingerly sits down. The legs of the chair sink a little way into the earth, and he steadies himself, making sure the thing won’t move any more before he spreads his lunch out onto his lap. An egg salad sandwich he has today, real eggs and real mayonnaise, his doctor be damned. And a liberal sprinkling of salt, as long as he was at it.
Often his doctor can tell when he’s been cheating, but not always. Once Arthur ate a whole apple pie covered with vanilla ice cream, and at his appointment the next day, his doctor said, “I’m pleased with your progress, Arthur; whatever you’re doing, keep it up. You’ll live to be one hundred.”
Arthur is eighty-five years old. He guesses he does want to live to be one hundred, even without Nola. It’s not the same without her, though. Not one thing is the same. Even something as simple as looking at a daffodil, as he is doing now—someone has planted double-flowered daffodils at the base of a nearby headstone. But seeing that daffodil with Nola gone is not the same, it’s like he’s seeing only part of it.
The earth has begun softening because of spring. The earth is softening and the buds are all like tiny little pregnant women. Arthur wishes Nola were like spring; he wishes she would come back again and again. They wouldn’t even have to be together; he just wants her presence on Earth. She could be a baby reborn into a family far away from here, he wouldn’t even have to see her, ever; he would just like to know that she’d been put back where she belongs. Wherever she is now? That’s the wrong place for Nola Corrine, the Beauty Queen.
Arthur hears a crow call, and looks around to find the bird. It’s sitting on a headstone a few yards away, preening itself.
“Caw!” Arthur says back, taking conversation where he finds it, but the crow flies away.
Arthur straightens and regards the cloudless sky, a near-turquoise color today. He puts his hand to the back of his neck and squeezes it, it feels good to do that. He squeezes his neck and looks out over the acres and acres of graves, and nobody here but him. It makes him feel rich.
Arthur takes a bite of his sandwich. Then he gets off his chair and kneels before Nola’s headstone, presses his hand against it and closes his eyes. He cries a little, and then he gets back into his chair and finishes his sandwich.
He is folding up his chair, getting ready to go when he sees a young woman sitting on the ground, her back against a tree. Spiky black hair, pale skin, big eyes. Jeans all ripped like the kids do, T-shirt that looks like it’s on a hanger, the way it hangs on her. The girl ought to have a coat, or at least a sweater, it’s not that warm. She ought to be in school.
He’s seen her here before. She sits various places, never near any particular grave site. She never looks at him. She stares out ahead of herself, picking at her nails. That’s all she does. Fourteen? Fifteen? He tries waving at her today, but when she sees him she puts her hand to her mouth, as though she’s frightened. He thinks she’s ready to run, and so he turns away.
Maddy was half asleep when she saw that old man look over at her and wave. When he did, her hand flew up to her mouth and he turned away, then shuffled off with his little fold-up chair. She hadn’t meant to do that, make him think she was afraid. Things don’t come out right. If she sees him again, she’ll ask him who’s in the grave. His wife, she imagines, though you can’t be sure.
Maddy watches as the old man gets smaller in the distance. She sees him go to the bus stop outside the gate and stand still, staring straight ahead. He doesn’t crane his neck, looking to see if the bus is coming. He wouldn’t be one of those people who punch an elevator button over and over, Maddy thinks. He’d just wait.
She takes out her phone and snaps a close-up of a tuft of grass, a patch of bark. She loosens her shoelaces, steps out of her shoe, and photographs it lying on its side. She walks to a nearby grave and photographs the center of one of the lilies in the wilting bouquet placed over it, the gently arcing stamens, the upright pistil.
She looks at her watch: 1:40. She’ll stay here until school is over, then go home. Tonight, she’ll meet Anderson, after he’s done working. Anderson is so handsome, he makes you vacant-headed. She met him at the Walmart, where he works in the stockroom. She was leaving the store and he was coming out of the bathroom and he smiled at her and asked if she was Katy Perry. As if. She smiled back. He was on his way to get a hot dog and he asked her to join him. She was scared to, but she did. They didn’t talk much, but they agreed to meet later that night. Three months now. She knows some things about him: he was in the Army, he loves dogs, he plays guitar, a little. Once he brought her a gift: a pearl on a gold chain, which she never takes off.
She slides farther down on the tree she’s leaning against and makes the space between her knees an aperture. All those graves. Click.
Most people find graveyards sad. She finds them comforting. She wishes her mother had been buried here, and not cremated. Once she heard a guy on the radio say that the cities of the dead are busy places, and it was one of those moments when it felt like a key to a lock. They are busy places.
Last time she saw Anderson, she tried to tell him that. They were at a nearly deserted McDonald’s, and she spoke quietly. She told him about the old man she saw there all the time, about how he talked to dead people. She told him what the man on the radio had said. She told him she found it peaceful being in a cemetery with the dead. Beautiful, even. What did Anderson think?
“I think you’re fucking weird,” he said.
It made her go cold in the back. At first she sat motionless in the booth, watching him eat his fries. Then she said, “I know, right?” and barked out a kind of laugh. “Can I have one of your fries?” she asked, and he said, “If you want some, get some,” and shoved a couple of dollars over at her.
But there was the necklace. And one time right after he met her, he sent her a little poem in the mail: Hope this little note will do / To tell you that I’m missing you. Another time he kissed her from the top of her head all the way to her toes. All in a long line, kiss, kiss, kiss. She had thought of it the next night at dinner and had had to hide a shiver. “Eat,” her father had said. That was one of their chatty dinners, he talked to her. He said a word. Usually, they said nothing. Each had learned the peril of asking questions and getting answers that were essentially rebuffs. “How was work, Dad?” “Work is work.” “How was school, Maddy?” “Meh.” “Do you like this chicken?” “It’s fine.” “Want to watch Game of Thrones tonight?” “You can.”
She checks her watch again, and gets up to find another place to sit.
When Arthur gets home, he pulls the mail from the box, brings it into the kitchen to sort through it, then tosses it all in the trash: junk mail. A waste of the vision he has left, going through it.
He pours himself a cup of cold coffee from the pot on the stove and sits at the kitchen table to drink it, his long legs crossed. He and Nola, they drank coffee all day long. He pauses mid-sip, wondering suddenly if that helped do her in; she had at one time been warned against an excess of caffeine.
He finishes the coffee and rinses out his cup, turns it upside down in the drainer. He uses the same tan-colored cup with the green stripe all the time: for coffee, for water, for his occasional nip of Jack Daniel’s, even for his Metamucil. Nola liked variety in all things; he doesn’t care, when it comes to dishes. Or clothes. Get the job done, that’s all.
Here comes Gordon the cat, walking stiff-legged toward him but looking about for Nola. Still. “She’s not here,” Arthur tells him, and pats his lap, inviting the cat to jump up. Sometimes Gordon will come, but mostly he wanders off again. Arthur has heard that elephants grieve, seems like cats do, too. Houseplants, too, for that matter. Ironically, he has no luck with them. He looks over at the African violet on the windowsill. Past hope. Tomorrow, he’ll throw it away. He says that every day, that he’ll do it tomorrow. She had loved the ruffled petals. “Look,” she’d told him, when she brought it home, and she’d put a finger under one of the blossoms like it was a chin.
After a dinner of canned stew that looks like dog food, he heads upstairs to the unevenly made bed. She’d be pleased he does that, makes the bed. Here’s the big surprise: he’s pleased, too. A man doesn’t always make room in his life for appreciating certain things that seem to be under women’s auspices, but there’s a satisfaction in some of them. The toilet seat, though. Up. And there are other grim pleasures in doing things he didn’t used to get to do. Cigar right at the kitchen table. Slim Jims for dinner. What he wants on TV, all the time.
He lies down and thinks about that young girl. He feels bad for having scared her. A wave, and she seemed horrified. Seems like he understands more about the dead than the living these days, but he thinks he understands a little about her. If he sees her again, he’ll shout over, “Didn’t mean to scare you!” Maybe she’ll shout back, “I wasn’t scared! I wasn’t scared, get you!” The image of her sauntering over to him, her thumbs in her belt loops, looking to pass the time. They could talk. He could introduce her to a few of the folks underground—who he thinks they were—if she wouldn’t think he was crazy. Maybe she wouldn’t think he was crazy; from the looks of it, she has her own strange ways. He might ask her if it didn’t hurt, that ring in her nose, hanging out the bottom like a booger.
Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Open House (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), Talk Before Sleep, and The Year of Pleasures, as well as the short story collection The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. She adapted The Pull of the Moon into a play that enjoyed sold-out performances in Chicago and Indianapolis. Berg’s work has been translated into twenty-seven languages, and three of her novels have been turned into television movies. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a quality reading series dedicated to serving author, audience, and community. She teaches one-day writing workshops and is a popular speaker at venues around the country. Some of her most popular Facebook postings have been collected in Make Someone Happy. She lives outside Chicago.