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All We Ever Wanted

Review

All We Ever Wanted

Nina Browning has got it made. Her husband Kirk --- raised a member of Nashville’s “old money” elite --- elevated the family to stratospheric wealth after selling his tech company. The couple’s only son, Finch, always popular and a “lifer” at his exclusive private school, has just been accepted to Princeton. Nina herself can’t quite give up the sense that she somehow has tricked karma into giving her this life. After all, she was raised in a very different, working-class part of Nashville, and has achieved everything she now has thanks to a very fortunate marriage.

But that sense of good fortune and ease is about to shatter, when Nina’s friend sends her a text. It’s a screenshot of a snap from Finch’s phone --- a photo of a passed-out girl, her breast exposed, complete with a racist caption written by Finch himself. What could have possessed him to make such poor choices? How might this affect his future? And --- the question central to Nina’s mind, if not to Kirk’s --- who is the girl and how might this affect her future?

"Giffin demonstrates admirable narrative restraint, delivering a satisfying ending while resisting the easy temptation to go for the obvious romantic outcome. Instead, she gives readers something more complex and bittersweet."

The girl, it turns out, is Lyla Volpe, the daughter of a single dad and a scholarship kid at Finch’s school. Complicating matters (though Nina doesn’t know it) is that Lyla has had a long-time crush on Finch; she’s nearly as mortified as Finch is when her dad, Tom, brings the matter to the attention of the school’s headmaster and makes it clear that he’s not going to just walk away.

As for Nina, the incident with Lyla dredges up some unwelcome, deeply painful memories from her own past, as well as regrets about how she handled the situation then. She encourages Kirk and Finch to make good choices, but it soon becomes clear that they are willing to throw all the tools at their disposal --- wealth, power and charisma, to name just a few --- at the problem in the hopes that it will just disappear.

In this, her ninth novel, Emily Giffin continues to mature as a novelist. Here she takes on some of the most hotly discussed contemporary issues --- toxic masculinity, classism, casual racism, sexual misconduct --- and frames them within a compelling, personal story. She shifts narrative voice between chapters, allowing Nina, Tom and Lyla to develop as fully fledged characters and to tell their own stories.

Giffin demonstrates admirable narrative restraint, delivering a satisfying ending while resisting the easy temptation to go for the obvious romantic outcome. Instead, she gives readers something more complex and bittersweet. Some may quibble with the 11th-hour redemption of one of the novel’s least savory characters. But since that redemption is glimpsed only fleetingly, and from a distance, it’s entirely probable that his story, like most of ALL WE EVER WANTED, is more complicated than it might at first appear.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 27, 2018

All We Ever Wanted
by Emily Giffin

  • Publication Date: June 26, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0399178929
  • ISBN-13: 9780399178924