Emily Giffin’s Heart of the Matter

A Writerly Review

~ By Chris Bailey

I am now officially an Emily Giffin fan. Not like Giffin needs me, a contrarian who willfully bypassed her early New York Times bestsellers: Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Baby Proof and Love the One You’re With. I started with Heart of the Matter, released in May, 2010.

The title neatly captures the central plot question. When hearts face the ultimate test, what will matter most?

Tessa, thirty-something, has given up a professorship to devote her attention to her family: two perfect children and a handsome cosmetic surgeon husband.

Valerie, a single mom who put herself through law school after her son’s birth in order to offer him a better-than-average life, faces serious challenges when her son falls into a campfire and suffers third-degree burns.

Nick, a compassionate surgeon who specializes in treating pediatric burn patients, is not only Tessa’s husband and the father of her children, but Valerie’s hope for her son’s recovery.

Who’s not to love?

Tessa and her friends have discussed what they might do if one of their husbands cheated on them. As is the way in fiction, the question morphs from hypothetical to real, throwing Tessa into a tailspin.

Giffin alternates first-person point of view storytelling between the wronged wife and the other woman, so you know from the first tense meeting at the hospital that Nick and Valerie are attracted to each other, and that Tessa’s awful discovery is coming.

There were times when I had to put the book down because I was emotionally drained. But I had to pick it up again to find out who got what in the end.

A writer’s perspective

Giffin takes the love triangle, a soap opera staple, and delivers a thoughtful read. It would have been easy to follow a trite and predictable path; easy to wallow in sentimentality; easy to lay all the blame on any one of the three lovers and end the story there.

Instead, Giffin clarifies the characters’ yearnings so that I’m able to feel sympathy for the wronged wife, the other woman, and even the cheating man. She draws us out with the lovers onto their emotional ledges—and talks us all down from the edge of despair.

I didn’t believe that she could possibly deliver a happily-ever-after ending for Tessa, Valerie, and Nick, but she does. (And no, it’s not an erotic threesome.)

But is HOTM chick lit?

Shoe shopping only gets a single mention, so HOTM definitely doesn’t qualify by that chick lit yardstick. Nor is it a lighter-than-air read about ditzy young women.

It is a novel about two realistic women in a situation that forces them to examine their deepest desires and come up with their own resolutions. Despite the heart-wrenching calamity, each of the three lovers comes to terms with a happily-ever-after that suits their characters.

The book’s cover, a not-pastel-but-still-feminine purple, may be an indication that it’s something of a transitional novel—and the transition may be in the chick lit subgenre. Giffin isn’t the only novelist made famous by chick lit tales who has turned to more serious subject matter. And yet, in the end, there’s happily-ever-after potential, which prevents the book from falling into the literary range on my personal dismal-o-meter.

Heart of the Matter is available new and used, in hardback, paperback, Kindle and audio versions. There’s even a discussion guide for your book club.

Ooh—it’s been nearly a year since Heart of the Matter came out! A quick look at Giffin’s web site and facebook fan page reveals that her next novel, SOBO, will be coming out May 6. What does SOBO stand for? No idea. I’ll find out later this year.

In the meantime, I hope Giffin enjoys her writing career and keeps the exploratory reads coming.

What’s your opinion?

Bonus – Hear what Emily Giffin herself has to say about her book:

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

2 thoughts on “Emily Giffin’s Heart of the Matter”

  1. Meredith,
    Thanks for cluing me in! I checked all over, and there were lots of comments about SOBO’s release–but being a newbie, I had no idea. HA!

  2. Great review Chris!

    I loved all of Giffin’s novels but I do agree that HOTM definitely covers the heaviest subject matter. But she does it very well!

    Just to clarify, SOBO, stands for “Something Borrowed” which is Giffin’s first novel. A movie, starring Kate Hudson and Ginner Goodwin, was made based on the book and it is being released on May 6th. I, for one, can’t wait. I don’t think Giffin has another book being released for quite a while. *tear*.


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