Berg's stories can only be called spiritual glimpses into vulnerability, illuminating and illustrating that we "are meant to celebrate the extraordinary moments and events that make up ordinary life," for in the flux of chaos and change, those are the things we long for.
In "What Stays," the narrator reflects upon her mother's descent into mental illness, recalling that in the 1950s, a mother who thought of baking as an occupation was not all that uncommon, but a mother who would yell, loudly and passionately, was. Other mothers were busy making dinner from cookbooks and wearing calm and sensible clothing with aprons over them, while her mother had become a "living dead person," lying motionless in bed, "staring at nothing." But in the end, the narrator learns that what was most important to her, was not "what was gone," but "what would stay."
On the surface, these stories sometimes deal with the superficial details of women's lives, but beneath, they are quiet and dark and seek a greater understanding. From the opening sentence of each story, the reader is left with the impression that these characters are stalemated or defeated. In "White Dwarf," a couple struggles to remain together following an infidelity. "There was no fighting. Their life worked: their children fought and laughed with one another, did well in school, and confessed readily to small crimes they committed." But each time George and Phyllis attempt to make love, Phyllis bursts into tears. Seeking a change and hoping things will get better, Phyllis suggests they take a trip with one another. But while in the car on the way to their destination, Phyllis is troubled that George is so comfortable with the silence in the car and suggests they play a word-association game. But what they unexpectedly learn through their play is that sometimes, making a relationship work can be worth the trouble.
What's striking about these stories is that one is simultaneously left with the impression that they indulge in sentimentality, and yet are emotionally removed. Berg's prose is measured and delicate, wise and insightful, a quiet, stately minuet of life's contradictions, and a collection whose truth is impossible to walk away from.