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!