Tessa is married to dashing pediatric surgeon Nick Russo. With their two kids and lovely home in Boston, Tessa’s life seems perfect. Although she recently gave up her job to focus on being a stay-at-home mom, she’s finding the adjustment a little difficult. Her new “mommy” friends are ridiculed by Nick for being shallow, but Tessa finds that they fill a need. Besides, Nick is often missing in action—called to the hospital for an emergency during their anniversary dinner, visiting his patients outside of rounds. Yet Tessa is proud of what Nick does, even if it seems to use up most of his energies. But lately Tessa is feeling that something is a bit off. Not sure if it her imagination or something real, she begins to see cracks in her perfect life and marriage.
Valerie is a single mom whose life revolves around her six-year-old son Charlie. With her brother as her primary support system and a successful career as a lawyer, Valerie tells herself she is content with her life. But when Charlie is injured in an accident, she finds herself drawn to Charlie’s surgeon, Dr. Russo. Not sure if her attraction is just the result of gratitude for his care of her son or something more, Valerie suddenly feels the lack of romance in her life. But Dr. Russo is a happily married man. So why does he seem like he wants to be more than just friends too?
Ack. What to say about this book? I so wish that Giffin hadn’t chosen adultery as her theme to explore because—DARN IT—she makes both Tessa and Valerie likable and sympathetic characters. In some ways, that is the “twist” of this book. Giffin makes you sympathize with the “other woman” and the wife. Both are good women struggling; you want both of them to be happy.
However, I think this is the big problem with the book. The adultery theme just messes it up. First of all, Nick is a bit of a cipher. He’s described mostly in terms of his good looks and his professional skills. He never really registered for me as a well-developed character. Because the book is told alternately from Tessa’s point of view and Valerie’s point of view, we get inside their thoughts and they came alive for me as women. But I never quite got a fix on Nick … or why he made the choices he did. I think the book would have been much stronger if we’d gotten three points of view: Nick, Tessa and Valerie.
As it is, we are given these likable women characters and they are forced to agonize over a man. Ugh. This was my first experience with Emily Giffin’s writing (Note: I cannot tell you how I struggle not to write “Griffin” instead of “Giffin” each time I type the author’s last name.) I’ve seen her books around for ages but never really felt compelled to read them. So when I had the chance to check out her latest book via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, I thought “Well, why not? Everyone enjoys a good chick lit book every now and then.” (For that is what these books always seemed like to me.) The thing is: I think Giffin is a decent writer. I related to a lot of Tessa’s struggles as a stay-at-home mom. This particular excerpt particularly rang true to me:
It occurs to me that a pretty easy fix would be to eat the French toast myself and make a fresh piece for Ruby, but there is something so thoroughly maddening about her expression that I find myself silently reciting the advice of my pediatrician, several how-to books, and my stay-at-home mother friend: do not surrender to her demands. A philosophy that runs in marked contrast to the parenting adage I normally subscribe to: choose your battles—which I confess is secret code for hold your ground only if it’s convenient; otherwise, appease the subject in order to make your life easier.
So, the thing is, I enjoyed reading this book but, at the same time, I disliked the plot and the choices that Giffin made for her characters. Does that even make sense? In some ways, I wish Valerie and Tessa could have each had their own book and weren’t forced to agonize over Nick. (He just didn’t seem worth fighting over.) Or, if Giffin had given Nick a voice, perhaps this book would have worked for me. As it is, it felt like one critical character was missing from this love triangle, and his absence weakens the book. That said, I enjoyed Giffin’s writing enough that I would be willing to check out one of her earlier books. Any suggestions?
My Final Recommendation
Although I enjoyed Giffin’s writing, this book felt like it was missing the presence of a key character, which kept it from working for me. If you’re a Giffin fan, I imagine you’ll read this one regardless. If, like me, this was your first exposure to Giffin, it was still good enough to make me want to check out her other books, despite this one having some problems. She seems to have a skill at writing women characters, but I’d love to see if she could write from a man’s point of view as well.
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The Whys and Wheres: I received a copy of this book via the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program.