Book review: ‘Heart of the Matter’ by Emily Giffin

Growing up, my mom was a huge fan of the Eagles and Don Henley. From the moment Emily Giffin’s Heart Of the Matter landed on my radar a few years back, I’ve had the chorus of Henley’s famous “Forgiveness” in my head. And I think it’s a clue, friends.

“I’ve been tryin’ to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter,
But I think it’s about
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore . . .”

So here we have a tangled, tangled web of infidelity, mommyhood and loneliness between Tessa and Nick Russo, married parents to two young children, and Valerie, a single mother struggling to hold her life together after an accident severely burns her young son. Plastic surgeon Nick comes to Valerie’s rescue and begins to treat Charlie’s wounds, but it’s Nick’s actual presence in their lives that provides the most healing.

We know from the get-go that Nick and Valerie are going to become entangled. This is a book about cheating, after all, so there has to be some cheating here — right? But it takes so long for the actual cheating to take place and there’s so much angst and longing and confusion that, after a while, I just thought, “Hey, can we get on with this? Can you just do it or do whatever you’re going to do?”

Yep. It was that sort of book.

“Frustrating” would be a good word to describe the action in Giffin’s fifth novel, which features cameos from beloved Something Borrowed characters Dex and Rachel. If I’m cheering for a man to dissolve his marriage by sleeping with another woman, a woman I actually grow to appreciate in some small way, then the book has reached a confusing turn.

Valerie is a complicated and broken woman — a lawyer with little interest in the law beyond providing for she and Charlie, a young man who shows tremendous strength of character in light of the terrible accident that brings them to Nick’s hospital in the first place. Not one to succumb to the whims and fancies of the society women whose children attend Charlie’s school, Valerie seems to exist in her own bubble — and likes it that way. Nick is the first one to pierce her hard exterior, and part of me was glad that someone had finally gotten through to her.

But how could you not want to punch Valerie — I mean, really? Despite knowing all about his situation, she was somehow still wooed by — and wooing of — a married man. But Nick — Nick, the real villain here? I wanted so badly to chalk him up as a dirtbag, but I could still see glimmers of humanity in him. Tessa seemed unhappy, cold and distant, yes, but that didn’t give him a free pass to go and get his jollies elsewhere. It was worse than just a physical connection, though; it was obvious that Tessa and Nick had grown apart, and Nick truly had an affair of the heart. Instead of talking through his difficulties with his wife, Captain Plastic Surgeon went ahead and decided to play savior with a terrified woman and her son.

So actually, now that I’m typing all that, I think he’s a jerk.

I know many readers do not look kindly on books dealing with infidelity, and it’s certainly not a subject that makes me dance around in glee. But the reality is . . . well, it’s reality. And I think Giffin takes a difficult subject matter and weaves a human touch throughout this story of redemption, though I didn’t necessarily think the characters were wonderful people.

But the heart of the matter? It’s not the cheating. It’s forgiveness, just like Henley croons, and I found myself questioning what I would do in a similar situation. “The more I know, the less I understand,” Henley sings, and I think that’s what prompts us all to take a leap of faith. It’s the only way.

Fans of Giffin won’t find the heart and soul they loved in novels like Something Borrowed, a book that also tackles infidelity, but Heart Of The Matter is still a thought-provoking read. I’d recommend it, particularly on audio — and this was my first audio book ever! Cynthia Nixon (Miranda of “Sex and the City” fame) narrated and had quite the expressive voice. Sometimes too expressive, because her throaty pauses and obnoxious society lady voices could get annoying. But I still enjoyed the audio experience.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312554176 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from Chick Lit Is Not Dead

8 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Heart of the Matter’ by Emily Giffin

  1. My book club did this book (in audio format) last summer. We had kind of the same view as you on how she drug out the story a bit too long. It was definitely enjoyable though.


  2. I wasn’t a huge fan of this one either, and if I recall why it was that I didn’t like any of the characters. I’m all for explorations of infidelity (because you’re right, it can and all too often does happen), but this novel left me feeling cold, despite Giffin’s strong writing.


  3. I didn’t run out and get this book when I heard about the topic. But you are right, it IS reality. If the statistics are right that is, then it’s what people do more often than not in a marriage. So I guess hats off to Giffen for taking it on and giving something for people to talk about!


  4. I enjoy Don Henley’s music (I’m an old fogie…at heart, too!) and everytime I see this title that song comes to mind so the beginning of your review cracked me up!
    I think you make a great point about infidelity being reality…unfortunate but true. A benefit to a novel about infidelity by a popular author is the reminder that infidelity stinks and hurts a lot of parties in the end…maybe somebody contemplating an affair in the real world will think twice about it because of this book (I can hope!). I like that Giffin doesn’t make any character the victim or the bad guy which is pretty realistic. Tessa’s no prize and some would think Nick, the jerk, had good reason to have an affair but he doesn’t. And Valerie is as wrong if not more wrong (I can never decide!) than Nick to get involved with him.
    I think it’s really intriguing that this story is about forgiveness not the act of infidelity. I didn’t expect that while reading the first part of your review since it sounds like it takes a long time in the book to get to the actual infidelity. You definitely got my attention with your awesome review. I’m not one for happy go-lucky stories and I like substance in the books I read so this story captures my attention and I think, thanks to you, Meg, this book will end up on my tbr list!


    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Amy! I did think the story was more about forgiveness than the infidelity itself, and I struggled greatly with who was “more wrong” in each scenario: Tessa, for turning into a shell of a person; Nick, for being a man who would step out on his marriage; Valerie, for welcoming his advances and doing nothing to stop it. But Giffin put a human face on every player in the story, and that’s what brought it a “step above” normal reads for me.


  5. This one would be interesting to listen to in audio form. I read this book a year or so ago, but I honestly can’t remember my thoughts, although I’m sure, they were probably pretty similar to yours because cheating sucks! Although Emily Giffin writes a lot about cheating…Something Borrowed comes to mind. Haha!


  6. I read this last year … it was my first Giffin book and I didn’t fall in love with it. Good to hear it wasn’t her best book. I thought that both women were sympathetic in a way. What I wanted more than anything was to hear from Nick!


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