Title: Heart of the Matter
Author: Emily Giffin
Release Date: May 11, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Tessa Russo should have the perfect life. Her husband Nick is a pediatric plastic surgeon, and she stays at home with their two beautiful children. However, she’s noticed that Nick has been drifting away from his family and she doesn’t know how to fix the rift that’s developed between them.
Valerie Anderson is a single mother, a corporate attorney who does her best to provide stability and security for her son Charlie. When a horrible accident occurs and Charlie is injured, Valerie is thrown for a loop and doesn’t know where to turn. She finds support and solace in Charlie’s doctor, Nick Russo, and they develop a close friendship as Dr. Russo treats Charlie. But will they observe traditional boundaries or will their friendship turn into something more?
I’m a big fan of Emily Giffin’s previous books (reviews of Love the One You’re With and Something Blue), so I was really excited to read her new novel, Heart of the Matter. I was pleased to find that it contained the same realistic storylines and sympathetic characters that I really love.
Heart of the Matter is really unique, in that it contains two sides to the same story. We hear two different voices, that of Tessa, the wife who is wondering why her husband is pulling away, and Valerie, the woman who relies on Nick more and more as her son is healing. The remarkable thing is that Giffin makes them both so sympathetic – the reader can understand why Tessa is so worried at the same time they realize Valerie has been through something horrible and needs someone to lean on. Though I did sympathize with Tessa more, Giffin does an incredible job making both of these women likeable and easy to understand. Neither is the enemy – there’s not a clingy wife who won’t let her husband go, and there’s not a vamped up slutty woman who’s after a married man. Giffin stays away from clichés and presents two realistic, three-dimensional women.
The question that permeates the novel is whether there are feelings developing between Valerie and Nick. Do they care for each other as more than just friends? Is it mutual? Is it real, or is Valerie simply projecting her feelings of gratitude? She also presents the question of an emotional affair – when do things cross a line, if no physical affection is involved? These are serious issues that Giffin tackles with grace.
I also thought Giffin’s depiction of Tessa was interesting. She previously was an English teacher, but recently made the decision to quit her job and stay at home with her children. Her husband was supportive of the decision, but her mother warned her that she wouldn’t be able to keep Nick’s interest if she didn’t have a life of her own. As the book progresses, Tessa begins to wonder whether that is true. While Giffin isn’t saying that moms shouldn’t stay at home with their children, she is making the statement that it isn’t necessarily the best route for everyone. While it definitely works for some families, it doesn’t for others. I think this was a risky statement to make, and I appreciated it.
The Heart of the Matter was an impressive novel that I really enjoyed. I like that Giffin is moving toward women’s fiction. Though I definitely enjoyed her chick lit novels, I appreciate that she is growing in her craft and injecting variety into her novels. Though most people will stand by first novel, Something Borrowed, as her best (which, incidentally, The Heart of the Matter gives away the ending for, so if you want to read that one, make sure you do it first!), I love that she’s really honing her skills as a writer and taking chances with what she does.