Title: Heart of the Matter
Author: Emily Giffin
Length of Audio: 10 hours 18 minutes
Narrator: Cynthia Nixon
First Released: May 2010
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Tessa Russo is the mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned pediatric surgeon. Despite her own mother’s warnings, Tessa has recently given up her career to focus on her family and the pursuit of domestic happiness. From the outside, she seems destined to live a charmed life. Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie–a boy who has never known his father. After too many disappointments, she has given up on romance–and even to some degree, friendships–believing that it is always safer not to expect too much. Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common aside from a fierce love for their children. But one night, a tragic accident causes their lives to converge in ways no one could have imagined. In alternating, pitch-perfect points of view, Emily Giffin creates a moving, luminous story of good people caught in untenable circumstances. Each being tested in ways they never thought possible. Each questioning everything they once believed. And each ultimately discovering what truly matters most.”
Comments and Critique: Before I continue, I will confess that I did not read the synopsis very well before I purchased this book. This is one instance where marketing and buzz completely influenced my purchase. Had I been paying closer attention, this would have been a book for which I would have thought twice before paying money for it. I might have been willing to read it or listen to it for free, but even then, the topic is one about which I have very strong feelings, so I tend to avoid books with this theme of adultery. I am not the target audience of this book and will most likely be in the minority for opinions and feedback.
To put it bluntly, I did not like this book at all. The narrator did not help. I adore Cynthia Nixon and have since she was the maid in Amadeus. She was one of the reasons why I chose this audio book over thousands of others. Imagine my disappointment when her voice grated on my nerves and she wrung emotion out of every single sentence, even where none existed. As a narrator, she had a way of trailing off at the ends of sentences, as if to soften the blow of the words, that quickly grew annoying. Had there been another narrator, one who could tell the story without adding extraneous emotion, this might have been a decent audio. Unfortunately, while Cynthia Nixon may be a decent actress, she is not meant to be a narrator for audio books.
Another large failure of the book was my reaction to Tessa, Valerie, and Nick. I felt no real sympathy for any of them and often found myself wanting to slap them upside the head for their inability to remove the blinders. I was particularly discouraged by Ms. Giffin’s portrayal of Tessa as a stay-at-home mom and Valerie as a single mother. Both characters are presented as caricatures with dangerous messages. Tessa finds herself lost and unhappy as a stay-at-home mom and reflects on how much she enjoyed working. Valerie is so focused on her job and her son that she fails to establish healthy, normal relationships with other adults. Both of them support and feed into the social competition to attend the right school, have the best decorations, be the perfect mother, be the perfect hostess, and so forth. It is disconcerting to see this represented in print because it a) is not an accurate portrayal of a majority of society and b) involves social norms that do more harm than good.
I was completely disgusted by the selfishness of each character. Each acted according to his or her own wishes and failed to consider the consequences. However, each parent managed to scold his or her child(ren) at one point in the novel for the very same behavior. I often felt that the children acted more like adults than their parents did, as at least they were willing to take responsibility for their actions. The adults did not.
As for the adultery, this is what sent me through the roof. Hour after hour of justification, turning a blind eye, and other excuses for adultery literally turned my stomach. I felt that Ms. Giffin was putting the onus for the adultery on the wife, as if it was her fault her husband strayed. Maybe my picture of adultery is too black and white, but this was truly one area of the novel that upset me to my core. At one point in time, I questioned whether Ms. Giffin were actually defending adultery, and that is, unfortunately, my personal moral line in the sand. Call me naive, call me old-fashioned, but I cannot condone adultery, and this is why I had such issues with Heart of the Matter.
Thankfully, Heart of the Matter ended on a much better note than I expected. For myself, I cannot help being disappointed; I had such high hopes for the novel but feel like I am letting down Ms. Giffin for not having the “correct” reaction. All I can do is chalk this one up to a massive learning experience and move on from there.
I purchased this audio book with my own money from Audible.com.
I’m curious if others have experienced this. What books have absolutely made your blood boil and stomach churn in disgust and anger at what was occurring? Have you ever chosen a book you realized almost halfway through that you should not have chosen it at all?