From the moment Emilia Greenleaf, a brand-new associate at a high-powered New York City law firm, first set eyes on Jack Woolf, she knew he was her bashert --- her soulmate. Never mind that Jack was married with a small son; Emilia knew that his presence was magic and that they were destined to be together. Sure enough, Emilia eventually gets her way: Jack falls in love with her and the two begin a torrid affair that culminates in Jack's divorce, his remarriage to Emilia, and the birth of their daughter Isabel.
It's all very romantic, right? Maybe not. Emilia's dreamy notions of soulmates and destiny constantly run up against the reality of Jack's intellectually gifted but fragile son William and Jack's brittle, controlling ex-wife. Only when newborn Isabel dies of SIDS does Emilia finally need to confront her expectations for marriage, parenthood and family life. Wallowing in her own grief, Emilia is blind to the suffering of those around her, especially to the suffering she herself inflicts. Her healing process is slow, but before Emilia's journey ends, she'll realize that real love is as much about discipline as it is about destiny, and that magic can be found in the most unexpected places.
Emilia is a sometimes unlikable narrator, self-absorbed, thoughtless, perfectly willing to admit that she can't stand her precocious stepson. She holds grudges against the adults who made her own childhood so difficult, but refuses to admit the role she plays in William's own damaged sense of self and family. Nevertheless, Emilia does have flashes of insight, and she gives voice to troubling thoughts that many mothers have guiltily felt, if not admitted, at some point in their lives.
In addition to being an insightful psychological portrait of one grieving woman, Ayelet Waldman's novel effectively paints a portrait of Manhattan's bourgeoisie, obsessing over nursery school etiquette and kindergarten admissions, bicycle helmets and booster seats. It's also a love letter of sorts to New York City, and to Central Park in particular. Emilia's beloved childhood destination becomes for her a painful reminder of all that she's lost, and Waldman's endearing, detailed descriptions of the park are a reminder of all that Emilia can yet regain.
Ayelet Waldman, perhaps best known for her Mommy Track mystery novel series, famously (or infamously) wrote in a 2005 opinion piece in the New York Times that her love for her own four children is less intense, less important, than her love for her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon. LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS also will bring up many of those same points, arguments that will continue to fuel debates in countless mothers' groups around the country.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 7, 2011
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits