The Day I Ate Everything I Wanted

13 of 21
The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted
256 pages; Random House
If you do nothing else this summer, read the title story of Berg's funny, thoughtful and so terrifically true (!) short story collection, which is tailor-made for any person on the planet who's had to survive maple-frosted coffee rolls as well as the occasional moment of loneliness. On the day the narrator eats everything she wants, she kicks off the food extravaganza at Dunkin' Donuts, then moves on to Chicago-style hot dogs, then french fries, chocolate malts, rare steaks, Caesar salad and an apple crisp. The final course, however, is a lovely mediation on her father and herself that will make you look at food—and tenderness—in a whole new way. By all rights, the entire book should be depressing (think: Weight Watchers weigh-in, ungrateful grown-up children, dogs that bite their owners, aging, aging, aging) except that it's so full of joy and life, you can't wait to read the next page. Berg can nail a character in three articles of clothing ("silk dresses, double-strand pearl necklaces, her theme sweater) or a line of dialogue ("I told your father to serve the relishes; is he serving the relishes?"). But it's their inner voices where they become so real and dear to us. That grandmother in the pearls who's asking about relishes studies the light-up Christmas tree pin on her husband's lapel, observing that, as "cheap as it is, it may stop working at any moment. But it goes off and on. Off, then on. Off. On."  A small observation that hints at the unglamorous but crucial battles we all struggle with, the ones in which we turn off and on, in order to ultimately go onward.
— Leigh Newman