Book Review: Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

3 Aug

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Who will like it best: Women 20+, especially wives and mothers, casual readers

Words to describe it: Tame, flimsy, depressing

Will I add it to my personal library? No

Will I read it again someday? No

I requested this book from the library when it was still on the New York Times Top 10 bestseller list – it came out in May and I think I requested it sometime in June.  It is still on the bestseller list as of today in slot #25 on Hardcover Fiction.   I have read a few of Emily Giffin’s other novels, liking one (Something Blue) and disliking one (Love the One You’re With).  I was interested to see how this one sat with me.

I picked this book up at the library over 2 weeks ago and finally talked myself into reading it yesterday. I was dragging my feet for some reason – not sure if it is because of the gaping departure from what I’ve been digging recently (serious drama, sci-fi, thriller) or the way Giffin’s novels tend to depress me but either way, I was simply not in the mood.  But since I would hate to send it back to the library without even trying, I decided to crack it open. And, luckily, it was over before I could really even decide to abandon it!  I finished the book in a little over 5 hours.

Synopsis

There are 2 main characters in this novel, Tess and Valerie.  Tess is a mother of 2 small children and married to a hard-working plastic surgeon.  She’s recently made the decision to stay home with her kids and is struggling to find her ‘sea legs’ with this new adventure as a stay-at-home mom. From the outside looking in, Tess appears to have the life women dream of.  Valerie is a single-mother lawyer who has a 6-year-old son named Charlie.  She has had to work hard for what she has and has closed herself off from love and friendship in an effort to protect herself and her son from having either of their hearts broken (again).  Tess and Valerie live in the same community but are not friends.  Tragedy strikes and both women are tied together in a way they never imagined.  Both have to face some somber realizations about themselves and the people they love the most.

My Review

This story was, for the most part, predictable. I’ll admit I did not know how exactly things were going to end and that did keep me hooked, but everything up to that point was really unsurprising.  And, ultimately, I really didn’t care that much in the end anyways.  The storyline was very tame.

At the beginning I found it funny that each chapter alternated between the 2 women, but Tess’s was told in the first person and Valerie’s was told in the 3rd.  This does get somewhat interesting in the 2nd to last chapter, but not enough to justify the choice to write it like this.

I did like some aspects of the characters.  I identified with both women as mothers of young children. And Giffin does a really good job at making her characters act and think realistically.  Here’s a great example (This is Tess, on the phone and fixing breakfast for Ruby, her preschooler):

As I start to reply to Cate, Ruby unleashes a bloodcurdling scream: “Noooo! Mommy!  I saaa-iiiid whole!”

I freeze with the knife in midair, realizing that I’ve just made the fatal mistake of four horizontal cuts.  Shit, I think as Ruby demands that I glue the bread back together, even making a melodramatic run for the cabinet where our art supplies are housed.  She retrieves a bottle of Elmer’s, defiantly shoving it my way as I consider calling her bluff and drizzling the glue all over her toast – “in a cursive R like daddy does.”

And this excerpt really tugged at my heartstrings, especially because Charlie is 6 and I have a young son as well.

She will remember the first horrifying glimpse of Charlie’s small, motionless body as he is sedated and intubated.  She will remember his blue lips, his cut pajamas, and the stark white bandages obscuring his right hand and the left side of his face.  She will remember the beeping monitors, the hum of the ventilator, and the bustling stone-faced nurses.  She will remember her raw appeal to the God she has all but forgotten as she holds her sons good hand and waits.

And while the main characters as mothers was well portrayed, I felt their relationships with their mothers and the entire ‘mother/daughter issues’ theme was seriously over done:  Tess and her mother (although this is less in the end when her mother is a source of strength), Tess and her mother-in-law, Tess and her stepmother, Valerie and her mother, even Tess and her 4-year-old daughter…every relationship listed here seemed to be a bit off or strained in some way.

Because this novel is mainly about the difficulty of marriage, it was natural to think of my own marriage while reading this and pose some ‘what if’ questions myself.  I spent some time asking how would I handle the gut-wrenching situations posed in the book.  Doing this is NOT FUN AT ALL!  Yes, it does remind me to be grateful but I’m a little annoyed at this book for forcing me to think of terrible things that could happen to my pretty stable and happy life!

This book reminds me of a 1 hour crime drama rerun I watch right before I go to bed.  It’s meant only meant to pass the time, the subject matter is grim, and while I am engaged while watching it,  I can’t really remember the story afterwards.

I cannot really recommend this book.  I didn’t hate it, but I cannot encourage someone to read it either.  Maybe someone who likes stories that are very tame and not too dramatic?

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One Response to “Book Review: Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin”

  1. cantputitdown September 19, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    I just finished reading this and I have to say I was surprised when I read your review. I loved it. I, like you, loved the realism of those two sections you quoted. What mother couldn’t identify? But I think what I liked about it most was the fact that it ended with this couple choosing to forgive and fight for their marriage. I think in today’s society, that is a rare thing…and so I’m glad Giffin chose this path. I’m sorry you didn’t like it better…maybe her next one will be more your style.

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