Monday, October 11, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Love the One You're With'

The Book: Love the One You're With

The Author: Emily Giffin

How I Found It: Same as Giffin's first three novels: the very emphatic recommendation of Shiri Appleby.

The Review: One hundred days after her wedding to her best friend's brother, Andy Graham, Ellen Dempsey runs into her ex in a New York City crosswalk. That ex is Leo, a moody journalist--Ellen's "one who got away." The relationship was a way for Ellen to fulfill her codependence, but impaired her artistic creativity, and to everyone but Ellen, he was not the one for her. She has tried her hardest to forget him, but that chance encounter brings it all back. She knows she shouldn't, but she meets up with him in a diner, and agrees to try and be friends again.

All around her, Ellen sees her family members doing the same thing. Andy, her husband, is friends with his ex-girlfriend; Margot, Andy's sister, has her ex-boyfriend doing yard work for her. If they can do it, why can't Ellen? She knows very well why she can't--Andy and Margot didn't feel nearly as much for those exes as Ellen did for Leo.

As much as Ellen wants to be faithful to her husband, she finds herself drawn in by Leo, who soon gets Ellen, who's a photographer, the assignment that could make her career. She can't refuse--but she can't tell her husband or Margot, neither of whom would understand, that she is back in contact with Leo. As she and Andy navigate married life and the decisions that come with it, Ellen makes a decision of her own--to rekindle her friendship with Leo, even if it could lead to dangerous territory.

I have to admit, I agree with what seems to be the general consensus--that this seemed to be the weakest of Giffin's books (at least, the ones I've read so far; I've yet to read her most recent, Heart of the Matter). I didn't, however, have the same misgivings everyone else seemed to. Most people found fault with Ellen as a character. I do have to admit that her continued attraction seemed somewhat implausible--Andy never does anything that would make the reader feel Ellen's behavior is justified, and we don't see enough of Ellen and Leo's initial relationship to really feel like Ellen's attraction to him is still warranted.

Besides all that, I never really felt that anything Ellen did with Leo was all that terrible. Giffin always tries to tackle the gray areas of certain subjects, where there are no easy answers, and that's sort of what happened here. What constitutes cheating? Does it have to be kissing or sex, or can it be something smaller, like keeping secrets or holding hands? Can you really be in love with someone when you can't stop thinking about the someone who got away? Even though I was supposed to believe Ellen was toeing the line and doing something bad, I just never felt that her relationship with Andy was being threatened. Maybe I can't see it since I'm not married or in a committed relationship, but that was my perspective.

Unlike most, I felt that Ellen, as a character, was realistic. She is formerly codependent and needy, but working to get past it. Still, she does have a tendency to let other people make decisions for her ever since her mother's death, which is the big shadow hanging over the novel. (I've read four of Giffin's five books so far and the protagonist has an issue with her mother in every one. It makes me wonder, is all I'm saying.) Ellen has never had that guidance, and finds herself constantly wondering about how things would have been if her mother had been around. Unlike in Giffin's previous novels, I never truly felt connected to any of the other characters besides Ellen. They all felt somewhat two-dimensional. The Southern belle, the mother-in-law, the perfect husband, the moody ex... everyone fit a little too neatly into those stereotypical categories.

Out of all Giffin's efforts that I've read so far, I think this one felt rushed and didn't delve deeply enough into the topic to suit me. I'd say it gets maybe 3 and 1/2 stars--I didn't like it as much as Something Borrowed and Something Blue, but I liked it less than Baby Proof (which I had mixed feelings about, but that was better written than this one, in my opinion). I'd definitely still recommend it for Giffin fans, but would advise newcomers to her work to start at the beginning and make a decision on whether or not they feel this one is worth their time based on their opinions of the others.

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