Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Heart of the Matter

Summary: 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. -- St. Martin's Press

I am a pretty big fan of Emily Giffin's! I've read and enjoyed all of her books, although a few of them have really stood out for me. I can now add HEART OF THE MATTER to my list of favorites. In fact, I think I can go so far as to say that I think HEART OF THE MATTER is her best novel yet!

HEART OF THE MATTER tells the stories of two women Tessa and Valerie -- who are both involved with the same man. Tessa is married to Nick, although their relationship is suffering; and Valerie falls for him when he "saves" her son from an injury. It's a love triangle of sorts and doesn't sound like an entirely original premise, but I found Ms. Giffin's novel to take a unique slant to this story. In HEART OF THE MATTER, both women tell their own stories in their own words. The chapters alternate back and forth between Tessa's and Valerie's narratives, and I think the author managed to capture each individual voice extremely well.

One of the things that I found so special about this novel was how I perceived each of the women. I have to admit that as a married mother of two, I normally would side with the wife in a story like this one -- unless she was a complete bitch. However, in HEART OF THE MATTER, things weren't so clear cut for me. Neither Tessa nor Valerie weren't without their fair share of flaws, but I found that I actually liked both of the women very much and I could see both sides of their stories. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this novel made think (and even question my own perceptions.) I love it when a book can do that!

Besides really appreciating the character development, I also really like some of the other issues this book explores. While I couldn't relate all that much to Valerie (I still wouldn't become involved with a married man and especially a father), I did find myself relating in some ways to Tessa. Maybe not necessarily in the marriage and relationship department, but I could really understand many of the pressures in her life. Valerie decided to "give up" her career for her husband and children; and I'm not entirely sure that she was satisfied with her decision. There are many days (especially during the summer months) when I wonder if I'm cut out to be a stay-at-home mom -- thank goodness for blogging and fellow book bloggers! In addition, Tessa not only had to deal with all of the super-moms out there, but she also seemed to be in need of some real friends who she could trust! I'm not saying that I don't have some very special friends, but I can relate to having some feelings of inadequacy when it comes to being a mom. Now whether those pressure are self-inflicted or not is a different story!

A question that I asked myself while reading HEART OF THE MATTER was whether or not I felt sorry for the man in question, Nick. I don't condone adultery and my first reaction is that he is very bad. But I didn't think I would feel compassion towards the other woman either. I wonder if Ms. Giffin had allowed Nick to speak in his own words if I would have had a different take on him. Definitely something to ponder....

As much as I loved this book, I really did appreciate the way the novel ended. I was curious to see how everything would be resolved, and I was a little worried that I might be let down. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I do think the ending was realistic. I also would love to know what happens after the last page of this novel, and I sincerely hope Ms. Giffin is considering a sequel.

I would love to discuss HEART OF THE MATTER with my book club, and I really think woman will have something to say about this novel -- and it might even be a little controversial! I would definitely be anxious to hear what my friends think about both of the woman. There is an awesome reading guide available which covers so many issues that today's women will relate to. Quite a few of the questions are excellent and perfect for discussion over a glass (or two) of wine! Some of the themes which your group might want to further explore include marriage, infidelity, social status, motherhood, family dynamics, friendships, peer pressure, romantic love, commitments, and forgiveness. While many women might not relate directly to the issue of infidelity in this novel, I can almost guarantee that there are other themes that will resonate with them!

HEART OF THE MATTER is the SheKnows Book Club pick for June/July. Since I am a SheKnows Book Club Blogger, I will be participating in the on-line discussion within the next few weeks, and I'd love to have you join us. Stay tuned for further information on the dates and times. I think it will be very interesting to hear everyone's thoughts about this novel.

Thanks to SheKnows Book Club for providing me with a copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I read "Love the One You're With" (on audio), which I think was by this author, and really enjoyed it. She definitely is adept at nailing down the emotions a woman can experience, in a way where you can relate with them, even if you don't agree with them. The story was well-narrated, and I'm thinking this one would work well too on audio. Nice review

Beth F said...

I'm glad this was such a hit with you. I'm not sure it would be a good match for me, but I'll put the author's name on my list.

bermudaonion said...

I've never read any of Giffin's books, but I'm always drawn to the covers. This one does sound thought provoking, which is a quality I like in books.

By the way, you're a great mom!!

Just Add Walter said...

Giffin's books are some of my favorites. I picked up her very first book simply because we went to the same undergraduate school (wake forest). I LOVED it and have been a fan every sense. I am with you on the fact that this may be my FAVORITE one yet. GREAT BOOK!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I haven't read any of her books either, but this one sounds really good. You have me curious about the ending!

Brianna said...

I love all her books, and this was definatley good. When I read her books I can't set them down! Her website says that they are turning Something Borrowed and Something Blue into a movie, which I am pretty excited for :)

Marg said...

Giffin is a bit hit and miss for me. I did have her last book out from the library but returned it unread. I should try her again.

clio said...


I just read your review- I am new to your blog- and really liked your review. I read "HOFTM" a couple of weeks ago and just finished listening to the audio version and really liked it too. This is my first EG book bt I have all of her previous one. I really liked "HOTM". I felt great empathy for all envolved, especially the women- bt as a stay-at-home mom with 2 young kids and a career in limbo- bt who plans to go to law school too- I too had more empathy for Tessa, though Nick is to blame for his part in this drama. I also did not like him that much, maybe bc of his behavior/action- how he treated Tessa and Valerie so differently, how he ignored his kids in favor or Charlie and how he abandoned Charlie at the end. Hard to really feel bad for him. I do have a mosochistic bone for love triangles/infidelity stories bt there are no winners there and they can here is my thing- though EG gave the ending I had wanted, I felt somewhat cheated or unfulfilled bc of how she got there. I wished I had heard more from Nick as far his feelings for Tessa, since EG made it so clear how smitten he was with Valerie and all that heartfelt confession to Valerie and then to Tessa felt phony, especially for Tessa. So wonder how you or any other reader who read the book feel about he realistic to love 2 people? did he love Valerie? I thought so...did he sacrifice his love then? was he still in love with Tessa? if not, then, why go back- for the kids only when he neglected them too? part of me felt that EG pressed upon the reader so much how much Nick "loved" Valerie that though I had wanted him to come home to Tessa, I felt that she may have taken the easy, predictable way out by bringing him back home and being nice to Tessa for the first time in the whole story...that did not ring true to me and upset me even more if he had ditched Tessa for Valerie...I also think that had he ended up with Valerie, eventually, her terrible insecurity/neediness/disdain for other women would show and he would get tired and bored, the same way he did with Tessa.

Have you had your online discussion yet? I would love to let me know.

Tks a lot.

nomadreader said...

I'm been a huge fan of Giffin in the past (Baby Proof is my favorite), and this one feel quite flat for me. I liked her writing still, but I did not really enjoy the novel. I'm glad to see your review because I wondered if Giffin had changed or my taste had, and now I think it's me. It's also her first novel to deal with motherhood so openly, and perhaps I had trouble relating to that aspect too. Regardless, I'm glad you loved it!