A delicious bite of liberation

Author Elizabeth Berg discusses eating and life in her newest book, “The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted.”

Halloween candy used to be hidden under the mattress of prolific writer Elizabeth Berg, but her secret snacking never rivaled the escapade of the main character of her new book’s title story. Her decision to eat her way through the day is the book’s first act of liberation.

“The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, And Other Small Acts of Liberation”

Author: Elizabeth Berg
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 242
Price: $23

WHAT: Reading
WHEN: May 10, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Borders, 866 Rosedale Center, St. Paul

WHAT: Reading
WHEN: May 9, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Barnes & Noble, 3225 West 69th St., Minneapolis

“The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted,” a collection of short stories, is a departure from the novels that Berg’s been writing for more than 10 years.

Berg considers the book a palate cleanser, a way to clear out all of the little ideas she’s had away the past few years. After more than 10 years of writing novel after novel, short stories were a welcome break.

But the title story was never more than fiction. Berg called it “a fantasy fulfilled on the page.”

The fantasy starts when the nameless narrator shows up to a Weight Watchers meeting, only to find a blind woman and a thin, elderly woman who could barely walk, both with “no visible blubber,” weighing and critiquing themselves. The main character thought it was too ridiculous to witness and decided to take the day off from her weight-loss regimen, opting instead to eat anything and everything she wanted. She started at Dunkin’ Donuts, ordering her coffee with heavy cream.

The spirit of the book would be clearer if the original title was kept: “The Day I Ate Whatever I F—ing Wanted.” Ultimately it got left out, but that doesn’t stop Berg’s characters from speaking their minds or committing their own little acts of defiance.

For instance, the main character in the title story notices that the woman behind the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts is fat.

“Anyway, Sigrid’s fat looked good, truly, every now and then you see a person who wears fat well,” the character explained. “It is that tight fat and just really looks kind of delicious and also their attitude is just great, like in your face: I’m fat, so f—ing what, get over your sanctimonious self.”

It’s the bravado it takes to confess these little observations that makes the stories entertaining. Berg’s style is light, comfortable and conversational, and she manages to portray the lives of women from pre-teens worried about breasts and bras to elderly women wistful about teenage loves.

Berg is an award-winning author and has been on The New York Times bestsellers list multiple times. Even more to her credit, she has met Oprah three times. Oprah even chose Berg’s novel “Open House” in 2000 as a selection for Oprah’s Book Club.

While packed with themes of weight, children, love and growing up, “The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted,” manages to stay lighthearted and fun. Berg explained that she likes the easy-to-read format of short stories so that a busy reader can feel like they actually finished something, without too much effort. But don’t be deceived by the casual style, because the language is loaded, its underside exposing subtle critiques about everyday life.