"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

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Summary: A single mom falls in love with the married plastic surgeon who's treating her injured son. 

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher.

Oh. My. God. Emily Giffin gets it. Did I get kidnapped without knowing it and have my brain harvested for thoughts? I laughed, cried, winced at the truths in this book. If you haven’t yet read Emily Giffin, pick up this book, because this is the one book everyone will be talking about this summer. You’ll see it at the beach, on airplanes, coffee shops and in book clubs. I’m suggesting it to my book club and I know we will continue to discuss it long after we meet, because it’s so relevant, so true, so compelling.

The story, Heart of the Matter, is told from two points of view; Tessa, a mother who recently started staying home with her kids, and Valerie, a single working mother whose son Charlie is seriously injured in a freak accident. When Tessa’s husband Nick becomes the surgeon assigned to Charlie, Valerie cannot help being captivated by the man who will save her son.

From the very first chapter, Tessa’s restlessness and anxiety instill a sense of dread in the reader and I know something bad will happen. I had to read on, because I know just how Tessa feels.

“I still love having sex with my husband, as much as ever once we’re under way. It just so happens that I know prefer sleep to most everything else- chocolate, red wine, HBO, and sex.”

When Tessa’s 5-year-old is fussing in Target, in front of another mother and her docile daughter: “I flash a fake smile of my own, refraining her from telling her what I’m really thinking: that it’s an unwise karmic move to go around feeling superior to other mothers. Because before she knows it, her little angel could become a tattooed teenager hiding joints in her designer handbag and doling out blow jobs in the backseat of her BMW.”

Tessa’s life rung true for me, and will for thousands of stay-at-home moms. Tessa’s life is laugh out loud funny, and so apt. When Nick suggests bringing Oreos to school as the snack for the day, I wanted to reach through the pages to smack him myself.

Yet Valerie, as the other woman, won my heart. Valerie’s intense love for her child, her loneliness, her fragile hope, and Charlie’s brave struggle made me hug my own kids (and my husband) a little tighter.

Strangely enough, my book club is also reading “Free-Range Kids” where the author tells parents to relax, because statistically, it’s unlikely that anything really bad will happen to your child. So when I read about Charlie’s accident, I panicked internally. What if it were my kid? And God, I hope I never find out. Valerie’s helplessness, her anger, her relief at having competent surgeon Nick tell her that he can help, that he will help, makes their relationship not only probable, but plausible. How could you not fall in love with the person who helps heal your child?

The book ends in the best and worst way possible. I was absolutely satisfied with the way things had turned out and would have been just as pleased if things had been different.

Jodi Picoult denied that her books are formulaic in an interview, and I snorted with derision. What’s wonderful about Emily Giffin’s books is that even though she does focus on adultery (a painful subject) she writes such heartfelt, often sympathetic characters in a realistic and funny way. And the book is absolutely up-to-date, with Facebook etiquette dilemmas, and mommy one-upmanship, and preschool applications.

I mean, Giffin really gets it all – the boredom and competition of being a stay-at-home-mom, the anguish of being a single parent, the loneliness of being a working, adult female. Even as Nick, Tessa and Valerie make choices, heart-breaking, anguishing choices, Giffin writes so well, that each action and each character will relate to some part of you and you not only understand why they are doing it, you know that you would do it too. 

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