BOOK REVIEW: Heart of the Matter, by Emily Giffin

Released: May 11, 2010 (St. Martin’s Press)
Source: Purchased
Buy Now From: Amazon

Tessa Russo is the mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned pediatric surgeon.  Despite her own mother’s warnings, Tessa has recently given up her career to focus on her family and the pursuit of domestic happiness. From the outside, she seems destined to live a charmed life. 

Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie–a boy who has never known his father.  After too many disappointments, she has given up on romance–and even to some degree, friendships–believing that it is always safer not to expect too much. 

Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common aside from a fierce love for their children.  But one night, a tragic accident causes their lives to converge in ways no one could have imagined.  

In alternating, pitch-perfect points of view, Emily Giffin creates a moving, luminous story of good people caught in untenable circumstances. Each being tested in ways they never thought possible. Each questioning everything they once believed. And each ultimately discovering what truly matters most.

My Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)

Emily Giffin sure knows how to write a novel. When I first started reading Heart of the Matter, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me thought that Giffin strayed from the usual love story to something more serious as the story begins mainly with Charlie, a young boy who gets severe burns after a sleepover incident. But then we meet Nick, Charlie’s plastic surgeon, and sparks fly between him and Charlie’s mom, Valerie.

Oh, but I should mention one thing – Nick is married with 2 children.

Valerie and Nick start out as friends, innocently enough. Talk always begins with Charlie and his progress, but eventually the two are texting and phoning each other daily with sentiments such as “I miss you” and the like. One night they end up making love and Nick admits that he’s falling for Valerie. The crazy thing is that I actually found myself rooting for Valerie and Nick to be together as the story went on (even though, in my heart I knew that he would ultimately end up with Tessa). I don’t know if it was intentional on Giffin’s part, but I found Tessa, Nick’s wife, to be annoying and unlikable. Part of the higher society, Tessa was friends with those “desperate housewife” type of women – Romy, the mother of Grayson, who’s sleepover Charlie was attending when the accident happened, seemed so high and mighty and actually brought a bottle of wine as an “I’m sorry” gift to Valerie in the hospital; and April, who is constantly gossiping about everyone.

However, this book didn’t turn out to be about love at all – well, at least it wasn’t right at the front burner. The novel turned out to be about forgiveness and forgiving just to forgive, not holding grudges, showing grace and courage when the time calls for it. What do you do when your son is burned at a party? Do you sue the parents who should have been watching the children in their care who are playing around the fire? Can you forgive the parents for what they’ve done? What do you do when your husband has an affair with a woman, not for sex, but for love – for wanting to be with her because it feels like it did in the beginning of your relationship? Can you forgive your husband? Can you forgive the woman?

So many questions are brought up and the book turns out to be more serious than I had expected. Even though part of me still kind of wishes that Nick and Valerie ended up together, the story ended up being more about the women than the guy. After Nick admits to his wife that he had an affair and she orders him to get out of the house, we lose Nick entirely. The reader is then left to see how Valerie and Charlie cope with the loss (which is hard for Charlie since he doesn’t have a father – Nick was a father-figure to him), and to see how Tessa reacts to this news of the affair.

While it ends well for all parties, the reader is left knowing that it’s not that simple – it’s not an “Oh, you cheated, but I still love you” kind of ending. It’s more of an “I know you cheated, and I may not be able to trust you again, but we can start over – we can work through this pain – it won’t be the same, but maybe we can make our life better” kind of ending. It’s leaving the reader wondering what does happen after the pages end – does Nick cheat again? Do him and Tessa realize that maybe they can’t make it work? Does Valerie manage to contact Lion, Charlie’s father? Are they able to move on?

My only complaint about this book is that we never really get into Nick’s head. I loved seeing him interact with Charlie, though it’s sad when Charlie realizes that Nick may not be coming back in the end. When Nick met up with Valerie to break off the affair, he told her he loved her and will always love her. Even Tessa said that he loves this other woman, but can’t be with her. It just amazes me that he can say that he loves Valerie and then go home and beg his wife for forgiveness and tell Tessa how much he loves her. However, he did tell Valerie that he has a family to think about and he doesn’t want to ruin what he has with them. I don’t know what to think – I did really like Nick in this book, but I think I enjoyed the surgeon Nick, rather than the groveling, down-on-bended-knee Nick. Though, I do wonder if my dislike for Nick is because of Giffin’s writing or because he is the adulterer, the one who is cheating on someone in this  novel.

I’m sad that I devoured this book so quickly and now have to wait at least another year or so until Giffin releases her next effort. Though, I am happy to have found such a wonderful author who can have so many things going on in a novel – love, loss, pain, suffering, happiness, etc. – but still manages to get to the heart of the matter. That is, what really matters in life – having hope.


2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Heart of the Matter, by Emily Giffin

  1. Really great review! I struggled to finish this one (a first for me with Giffin novel) and I think it’s cause I identified with Tessa. I’m not married, no kids, but I have a job that I love and derive a large sense of identity from it. I also know that if I have a option once I have kids I’ll have a really hard time continuing to work. I really felt for her loss of sense of self going from working to stay at home mom.

    I never felt like she liked the “Desparate Housewives” that much either, but when Nick would critisize them she felt like he was critisizing her and was defending herself more than them.

    I think in this novel Giffin did what she planned on doing in “Something Borrowed”. When she started “Something Borrowed” she didn’t intend for Dex and Rachel to end up together.

My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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