Home » 2008 bestsellers, bestseller feature, criticism, Fiction

#10

Love the One You’re With

by Emily Giffin
Viking, 2008

Ask any woman unlikely to have read many books, and chances are she’s read one by Emily Giffin. I’ll be completely honest and admit that this is the third book I’ve read of hers: I read both Something Borrowed and Something Blue on airplanes. For me, Giffin’s books are usually the perfect travel companions; the straightforward prose and somewhat predictable sequence of events means distractions are not a hindrance, and the chick-flick storylines help pass the time.

So I knew what I was getting into when I picked up Love the One You’re With. As in previous Giffin works, the reader relates to the main character, Ellen, because of her seemingly average qualities and her “strong desire to belong” in a world where she is surrounded by people who happen to be perfect, like her old college roommate, best friend, and sister-in-law, Margot.

Margot was a cheerleader and former debutante, brimming with the brand of confidence that belongs to wealthy, well-traveled WASPs. I was reserved, slightly neurotic, and despite my strong desire to belong, far more comfortable on the sidelines of things.

Besides coming from a middle class family, being slightly shy, and feeling like something of an outsider, the main character has other sympathetic qualities. First, her mother died of cancer when Ellen was a teenager, a fact that the reader is reminded of approximately every two pages. Next, she loves her husband and wants to be a good wife. Her love is put to the test when her most significant ex-boyfriend enters the picture.

Giffin strings the story along, making the reader hold on just a few more pages for the scandal to finally unfold. Unfortunately, she never really delivers. The drama in the story doesn’t come from anything actually happening. It really only comes from the main character blowing events out of proportion. As in an episode of Full House, nothing bad ever would have happened if Ellen had been honest from the beginning. For example, the first scene finds Ellen collecting herself after running into her ex-boyfriend after eight years. They mutter an awkward hello and go their separate ways. She understandably feels flustered and excited, as anyone would after seeing an ex-love after so much time. Ellen’s reaction, however, is to completely blow the situation out of proportion.

…I slid into a red vinyl both in the back corner of the restaurant and vowed never to speak of it. To share my feelings with a friend would constitute an act of disloyalty to my husband…To write of it in my journal would elevate its importance, something I was determined not to do. And to tell [my husband] would be some combination of stupid, self-destructive, and hurtful. I was bothered by the lie of omission, a black mark on our fledgling marriage, but decided it was for the best.

This sets the scene for the rest of the book. Ellen spends the next few chapters flipping through memories of meeting and dating Andy, her perfect, rich husband, and Leo, her bad-boy ex-boyfriend. In the end, of course, she must choose between the two.

One of the reasons that Giffin’s books are so popular might be because many women find them relatable. Ellen’s relationship with Leo is the type most women have had in their lives. As she reminisces about their relationship, Ellen muses:

After work, I’d head straight for Leo’s new place, back in Queens, ever available to him, only returning to my own apartment when he had other plans or when I needed a fresh supply of clothes. On the rare nights we were apart, I sometimes went out with Margot and our group of friends, but I preferred staying in, where I would day-dream about Leo or plan our next adventure together or compile cassette mixes of songs that seemed cool enough, smart enough, soulful enough for my cool, smart, soulful boyfriend.

This scene sufficiently illustrates the one-sidedness and borderline obsessive relationship Ellen had with Leo, which causes her to ignore her career completely. After he breaks up with her, however, she rediscovers her passion for photography and her career skyrockets. In the written equivalent of a movie montage scene. Ellen buys herself a camera and enrolls herself in classes to become, in one short page, a successful, independent photographer.

With her life completely in order, she is ready for a steady relationship. She dates and marries her best friend’s brother. A less passionate relationship, perhaps, but a steady and happy one nonetheless.

As her ex-boyfriend uses her eight-year-old but unchanged cell phone number to weasel his way back in to her life, Ellen must decide which type of love is better: intense and all-consuming or unwavering but unglamorous. Ellen lives every woman’s dream of having an ex crawl back to her, finding her in a happy relationship and a successful career.

Because Ellen really does love her husband and her family, it would seem as though there’s no decision to be made. Fortunately for the storyline, Ellen’s husband changes into a selfish, materialistic golf-player right when it becomes most convenient for her to run back into Leo’s arms.

At the beginning of the book, Andy was painted as laid back about everything, including money:

I imagine a day far into the future when Andy and I return to this spot with our yet-to-be-born children. Give them a grand tour of where ‘Mommy and Daddy first lived.’ Tell them, ‘Yes, with Daddy’s family money we could have afforded a plush Upper East Side doorman building, but he picked this one, in this quiet neighborhood, because it had more character…Just as he chose me over all those blue-eyed Southern belles.

But after the couple relocates to Atlanta and buys a giant house near Andy’s family, Andy can’t stop himself from golfing compulsively and ignoring his wife. This makes Ellen feel isolated and drives her back to an eagerly waiting Leo. She flies to New York to see Leo and must decide, once and for all who she will choose.

___
Julie McGinley is originally from Colorado, but recently relocated to the Boston area. She spends her time discovering the wonders of the New England lifestyle and writing a blog.

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