Emily Giffin writes her latest novel Heart of the Matter, with a scalpel. She slices through the layers of three people's lives to lay bare the needs and longings of their hearts. With this dissection she creates a story about love that is played out through scenes of a marriage and of an affair. It is a brutally honest book in that it never falters in its depiction of hope and heartache.
The story starts out with a tragedy. Six year old Charlie Anderson is involved in an accident which leaves him with severe burns to his face and hand. His mother Valerie is panicked at the thought of losing him and puts all of her trust in Dr. Nick Russo, a talented and compassionate surgeon.
Valerie is a single mother who relies heavily on her brother Jason, but even he can not make this accident alright. Valerie goes over and over in her mind her decision to let Charlie attend the party of a friend from his school. Her natural inclination is to keep Charlie close but this time she had relented, and that is when the accident took place.
While all of this is happening Tessa Russo is perfecting the art of being the perfect wife. She has quit her job to become a stay at home mom to her and Nick's two kids Ruby and Frank. Tessa's mother has been adamantly against this move as she thinks Tessa is giving up too much of herself in the process.
The first part of the book is all about Charlie's accident and the way it affects the lives of Valerie and Nick. Tessa's story takes a back seat. Then the relationship between Valerie and Nick changes and though she is unaware of it, it impacts Tessa's life. This is when Giffin slices through the fairy tale aspects and goes for the hard edged reality.
The beauty of Giffin's writing is in the way she creates these three characters to be likeable and enjoyable but also realistic. There are no arch villains here. Tessa, Nick and Valerie all have their good traits and their not so good ones. They are human with a capital "H". As Giffin spells out her story you get to know the inner workings of their minds, and the quiet desperation of their dreams.
When reading Heart of the Matter you get the feeling that any of the actions or reactions stated in the story could be yours or at least those of someone you know. These are not characters who live in a time and place far, far away but rather are people who live in the here and now.
This is an intense story to read but it is written in a manner that makes you unable to take your eyes from the pages. Nick, Valerie and Tessa become your friends and you have to know how their story ends. When it does end, you are convinced you have been exposed to a full revealing of their lives and that makes the book worthwhile.
Emily Giffin is a gifted writer who re-gifts her talent in the books she creates. She gave us evidence of her talent in books such as SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE, BABY PROOF and LOVE THE ONE YOU'RE WITH. With HEART OF THE MATTER she turns up the heat and gives us her best novel yet.
HEART OF THE MATTER is published by St Martin's Press. It contains 368 pages and sells for $26.99.
Jackie K. Cooper