Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

I’m a huge Emily Giffin fan and have read all her books.  I just absolutely love her writing style.  It’s easy, free-flowing, conversational and well, honest, unpretentious and forthcoming.  She transcends conventional literature, making her characters relatable where the lead heroine reveals the deeper part of herself in such an honest, assured way that reminds us we’re ‘not alone’, we are all humanely flawed, and in so being, share company in whatever ‘issues’ we’ve faced.  Whatever the dilemma, Emily Giffin’s characters have been there too, and they’re more than happy to take you on a tour of every bitter emotion, happiness and fear that only make them all the more intriguing. 

More importantly, I finally got to meet her on  May 13 in New York at the New York Look.  The interesting thing is that when you finally meet Emily, you feel you already know her.  And if you’ve spoken to anyone standing in line, you’ll find that many of her readers feel similarly connected to her and speak of her as if she’s a friend.  She’s adjoined herself to her readership in such a way as to amass a huge following.   Yes, I was one of the first people there, waiting, (I bought a nice pair of earrings showcased in the glass window – hey, I was early), then later had a glass of wine with my husband at a little bistro across the street until the hour of her arrival– when all her fans started excitedly piling up outside the door.  When she finally stepped in, she sauntered through, energetic, smiling, eager to see her fans, in a pretty dress fitting to her petite frame, camera in hand, and snapping photos of her long line of readers.  That’s a first!  But that’s Emily reaching out and connecting with her fans.  Up close, sitting beside her on the couch where each reader was invited to have his or her book signed, she’s sweet, pretty and disarming.  On a glass table in front of the couch are custom-made miniature pink and blue pins, scattered about and filling a glass vase with SOBO and ‘eg’ printed on them, celebrating Emily and the movie that is currently in production.  I point to my husband, sitting across from us on another chair, and we both turn to look into the lens to smile as he snaps our photo.  And you don’t want to leave the moment while you’re in it.  But alas, you must, to make room for the next reader in line who, like you, travelled just as far to see her. 

Readers have often compared Something Borrowed with every other book in the genre that has followed in its wake.  It was a fun, refreshing read, addressing infidelity from a unique, sympathetic and at relative points, comical reference.  Each character evoked some kind of emotional response from you, and you found yourself talking and venting about Darcy, Rachel, and let’s not forget Claire, as if they were real people part of our inner circle.  If you’ve read this book, opinions ran pretty deep; you discussed these women as if you knew them personally and shared the same alma mater with them.  I often found myself thinking about their situation years after reading the story.

Well, get ready to make room for another novel that will spin you in a whole new direction, but will find itself setting the standard once more.  This time, the tone has changed from her other novels, Giffin competently proving again her ability to foray into new territories of fiction and story-telling the very flaws that trademark her stories and the characters who inhabit them into being so utterly relatable.  In Heart of the Matter, she tackles infidelity once again, but from a perspective told more soberly and in alternating points of views; the wife and ‘the other woman’, allowing readers for the first time ever to obtain a thorough, if even reluctant understanding for both grievances.  Each finds herself facing disheartening circumstances that merge and radically abort their lives in a way that neither ever expected.  Tess and her pediatric-surgeon husband Dr. Nick Russo are celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary when he is paged to the hospital unexpectedly, cutting the evening and the celebration short for husband and wife.  The call is in response to an incident regarding a six-year old burn victim named Charlie.  While caring for him through Charlie’s process in healing in rounds of surgery and skin grafts, Nick eventually becomes emotionally attached to Charlie’s mother, Valerie; a single mother, hard-working lawyer, who’s been raising Charlie on her own.  Abandoned by the biological father of her son so many years back, cut off by her friends over a minor disagreement, and feeling somewhat isolated from the snob society of her son’s peers, Valerie has been dealing with loneliness far too long, and Nick, over stepping the boundaries of his oath as a doctor, allows himself to get a little too close to mother and son.  And Valerie, worried sick over her son’s unfathomable misfortune that no child should ever endure, becomes emotionally and faithfully dependent on her doctor’s ability as healer.  His presence in their life is a stark reminder for the void of both father and spouse that Valerie and Charlie are understandably aching to fill.  But is our empathy so great that it’s at the cost of a greater sacrifice from another family? 

Here enters the complexity of omniscience when we see all sides.  Tessa, against her mother’s advice, walked away from her career to commit herself as a stay-at-home mother for her two children, is now having serious doubts.  Unaware of Nick’s growing attachment to Valerie, she now feels a distance growing between herself and her husband, and doesn’t know what to ascribe it to.  The book is deep, serious, and at unexpected moments, heart wrenching as we find ourselves sympathising with the plight of both women, rooting that a resolution can be found for everyone involved without more suffering going any further than need be.  Heart of the Matter bravely approaches the uncomfortable territory of forgiveness, the consequence that a choice or a chance meeting can irrevocably put into effect.  We also are reunited with Rachel and Dex, Giffin’s way of bringing both reader and vintage character together in a casual reunion, allowing us to get a glimpse of where they are today long after the final page of Something Borrowed was closed.

So where does this leave Tessa after the sacrifice is made?  And an unforseen consequence that is un-rewarding follows?  Whatever choice Tessa makes in the end, in reaction to this dilemma, I’m with her.  This is the first time I’ve read a novel where I found myself suspending judgement, where no one earns the rank as villain and where objectivity takes a front seat to emotion; or maybe it shares the same place, since empathy allows this to be so.  I support Tessa in whatever decision she makes.  Feel for both women in their plight. 

In which case we come to learn that sometimes there is no right and wrong, situations aren’t always absolute (particularly with infidelity), and that forgiveness isn’t just a choice but a process we have to work through.  But above all, that the best choice we can make is the one we can live at peace with.  I strongly recommend this book to both new readers and veterans of Giffin’s books alike.


Filed under Fiction

2 responses to “Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

  1. Love this review! I wonder if Emily will give us a glimpse into Tessa and Nick in her new book. I have always wondered if they were able to work things out.

    • Hi Taren, thanks for posting. I always wondered about that too. The whole what comes next sort of thing. Because the story ends kind open ended. You want to see them work it out and meet with some sort of a happy ending.

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