Friday, August 13, 2010
Tessa, a young mother of two, is married to Nick, a surgeon. From the outside, their life together looks perfect - two beautiful children, lovely house in Wellesley, MA and Nick's successful career. However, when Nick cares for a local boy injured in an accident and begins to have feelings for the boy's mother, Valerie, the cracks in their marriage begin to become evident.
Heart of the Matter is told alternately from the perspective of Tessa and Valerie. Tessa has what appears to be a "perfect life" with her two young children and successful husband but underneath she is struggling with her recent decision to leave work and stay home with her kids. She tries to settle in to the stay at home lifestyle but finds many of her fellow Moms catty and worries that her husband will become bored or think less of her now that she does not have a career. Valerie, on the other hand, is a single mother with a young son. Valerie is an attorney and works long hours to provide for herself and her son, Charlie. There is little else in her life and she seems to be a bit of an outsider in the upscale Wellesley neighborhood. When an accident during a sleepover leaves Charlie with serious burns and Nick is the surgeon who treats him Tessa and Valerie's lives collide.
Heart of the Matter is essentially a tale of infidelity. As Nick spends time with Valerie in his treatment of Charlie, he develops feelings for both of them and starts an affair with Valerie. Tessa can sense something has changed in her relationship with her husband but isn't exactly sure what is going on. Giffin does a very good job of creating two sympathetic characters in Tess and Valerie - it would have been much easier if one were clearly the villian and the other a saint. But life is not that simple and I appreciate that the author took this more difficult approach.
Nick, however, is not a sympathetic character. Perhaps because he has no voice in the novel, I could not understand his motivation for cheating on his wife and complicating the lives of a single mother and her vulnerable son. While understanding his backstory would not excuse his transgressions, it would have provided context. What really bothered me about Nick's affair was his relationship with Charlie - it almost felt as if he was captivated by Charlie and then fell into a relationship with Valerie. In addition to cheating on his wife, Nick was cheating on his own children with Charlie. While Charlie was a loveable little boy and deserved the father figure he so desperately wanted, I did feel badly for Nick's own children who saw so little of their Dad due to his busy schedule as a surgeon. They saw even less of him as Nick spent his precious little free time with Charlie.
Despite my strong "anti-Nick" feelings, I did enjoy this book. Giffin's storylines have matured along with her and I related to the characters and their struggles. Fans of her earlier novels will enjoy this one (there is even a cameo by a few characters from her other novels) but for those new to Giffin, this is a great start!