7 reviews

Heart of the Matter
by Emily Giffin

Published: 2010-05-06
Kindle Edition : 400 pages
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30 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 4 of 7 members
"Giffin excels at creating complex characters and stories that ask us to explore what we really want from our lives."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution 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 ...
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"Giffin excels at creating complex characters and stories that ask us to explore what we really want from our lives."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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.

Editorial Review

Product Description

A powerful, provocative novel about marriage and motherhood, love and forgiveness.

Tessa Russo is a stay-at-home mother of two young children and the wife of a renowned pediatric surgeon. Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlieâ??a boy who has never known his father. Although both women live in the same Boston suburb, they are strangers to one another and have 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.

This is the 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.

Amazon Exclusive: A Conversation Between Kristin Hannah and Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin (left) is the author of five New York Times bestselling novels, including Something Borrowed, which has been adapted as a major motion picture that will be in theaters in summer 2011. A graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia School of Law, she lives in Atlanta with her family.

Kristin Hannah (right) is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels, including Night Road. She is a former lawyer turned writer and the mother of one son. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

Kristin Hannah: Well, first, I have to say, Emily, that I am just the tiniest bit irritated with you. When I got the call to do this interview, I was thrilled, to say the least. It came at a really busy time for me--right after the holidays and we all know how crazy that is--and my work in progress was giving me fits. Then I picked up Heart of the Matter, and lost myself. No more writing, no more cooking, no getting my hair done or reading my email. Once I started the story I literally couldn't put it down. Brava, girlfriend, I say. Your characters are so real and compelling, and they always say exactly the right thing. With so much honest emotion, I just have to ask how much of your work comes from your own life?

Emily Giffin: It never fails to thrill me when someone responds to one of my novels--especially when it's another writer. Writers understand the alchemy involved in making up something from nothing. And I just finished your book, Night Road, and I found it so emotional, so moving, and so terrifyingâ??especially since I have three young children who will someday be teenagers. In terms of how much does my work come from my own life, I would say that I'm absolutely inspired by people, places, conversations, relationships, and issues that I observe, and that the "what if" part of my novel is very much inspired by these things in my life. But the details of my plots and the specifics of my characters come from my own head. How about you, Kristin? I'll ask you the million-dollar question that every author gets asked: where do you get your ideas?

Kristin: Ah, the idea question. I don't want to sound coy, but the truth is, I don't quite know. It's the most magical part of the process for me. I'm a pretty analytical gal, and I approach writing in the same just-the-facts-ma'am way I approach most things. I need to find an issue that engages me on an intellectual level, and then I need to marry that curiosity with a kind of passion. I need to feel genuinely passionate about each story before I ever write a word, and I have to actually have something to say. It takes me at least a year to research and write a novel, and so I have to really adore each part of itâ??the characters, setting, story. Most of all, it has to make me feel something genuine. That's really the most important component. Usually it begins with a single "what if" questionâ??what if you discovered your mother had a whole secret life about which you knew nothing (Winter Garden) or what if your husband were accused of a crime you believed he hadn't committed (True Colors)â??and then I write and re-write until the characters seem as real to me as old friends.

Kristin: I'm amazed by how much we have in common. We're both moms, both lawyers, both lived in London for a time. You're like a younger, cooler version of me. How did you make the transition from lawyer to writer, and do you think you'll ever practice law again?

Emily: I would hardly say I'm cooler than you, Kristin! I hear you live in Hawaii part time! What is cooler than that? I made the transition from lawyer to writer because I was so miserable being a lawyer that I needed some escape from the day-to-day of it. And inventing stories was that escape. I can say, without hesitation, that I will never practice law again. Would you? What kind of law did you practice, and for how long? What did you find appealing (or discouraging) about law? Did you find that it gave you fodder for any of your novels?

Kristin: Honestly, I have met very few lawyers who don't say that what they really want to do is write. Like you, I can say with certainty that I will never practice law again. Not that anyone would want me to. But I still keep my Bar membership upâ?¦just in case this whole writing thing doesn't work out. And yes, in the past few years, I have finally begun to put some of that law school education to work for me. I find that I'm really enjoying adding legal issues to my work. Of course, I have to talk to real lawyers to make sure I'm getting it right...

Read more of the conversation between Emily Giffin and Kristin Hannah


No Excerpt Currently Available

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Discuss the opening lines of the novel: “Whenever I hear of
someone else’s tragedy. . . I find myself reconstructing those
final ordinary moments. Moments that make up our lives.
Moments that were blissfully taken for granted—and that
likely would have been forgotten altogether but for what
followed. The before snapshots.” Have you had an event in
your life with clear before and after snapshots? What were
those snapshots for you?
2. Heart of the Matter is told from two points of view. How
does this technique affect our view of the characters and their
actions? Why do you think the author chose to write in the
third person for Valerie and the first person for Tessa?
3. In what ways are Valerie and Tessa different? In what
ways are they similar? With whom do you sympathize and
identify more? Did you find yourself taking sides as their
stories unfolded?
4. We never hear Nick’s point of view, other than what he
shares with Tessa and Valerie. What is your perception of
Nick? As a husband and father? As a surgeon? Do you think
your feelings would have changed had he been given a voice?
5. Valerie has closed herself off from personal relationships,
both casual and romantic, claiming to only have time for
her son and her career as an attorney. How does meeting
Nick change her? Does it affirm what she’s always suspected?
What do you think she’ll be like moving forward?
6. In contrast to Valerie, Tessa seems to fit in perfectly in
their social circle. Yet she, too, grapples with some of the
social issues. In what ways is she different from the
women around her?
7. How do money and materialism play a part in this novel?
Social standing? Education?
8. What did you think of Romy? Of April? Do you
know similar people? Do you think their actions were
misunderstood? How would you have reacted to Romy
had you been in Valerie’s shoes?
9. Do you think Tessa made the right decision to give up her
career to become a stay-at-home mother? Do you think the
decision contributed to problems in her marriage? If so, why?
10. Are her mother’s misgivings about Tessa’s decision founded?
How are her mother’s views colored by her own past?
11. How was Tessa’s reaction to Nick’s transgressions shaped
by the experience of her mother? Her friends? Her brother’s
seemingly perfect marriage? Who do you think has
the more enviable life—Tessa or Cate?
12. Why did Nick allow himself to have a relationship with
Valerie? Do you believe it was specific to Valerie or was
there something missing in his marriage? Do you believe
he was in love with Valerie? Was he telling the truth in
the final chapter of the book?
13. Why do you think Tessa chose to contact Valerie? Would
you have made this decision? Why do you think Valerie
lied to Tessa when confronted? What would you
have done?
14. Do you think Valerie is a good mother? How much do
you think Charlie factored into her decisions in this story?
How much does she let Lion, and her past, influence
her decisions?
15. Compare and contrast the mother-daughter relationships
in this book. What makes these relationships so complex?
16. Why do you think women judge each other so much
when it comes to personal decisions about work,
motherhood, and relationships?
17. Do you think some affairs are more forgivable than others?
What would you find easier to forgive—an affair of
the heart or a one-night stand?
18. At the end of the book, Tessa has a decision to make. Do
you feel she made the right one? What would you have
done? What do you see as the “heart of the matter” in
this story? How is trust distinct from forgiveness?
19. Do you think people can change? Do you subscribe to
the notion “once a cheater, always a cheater”?
20. Fast-forward ten years. What do you see happening to
each of these characters? Do you think they are happy?
Why or why not? Will Nick and Valerie’s affair continue
to affect the lives of these characters?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Emily Giffin for members of the BookMovement community:

My books are all relationship-focused, so much of my inspiration comes from my own relationships and the issues and concerns that arise among my friends and family. It’s amazing how universal certain themes are and, in the case of HEART OF THE MATTER, I think the story’s exploration of forgiveness, the insecurities of motherhood and the tricky mechanics of sustaining a marriage are all things that readers can relate to strongly.

However, there was one specific event that served as the initial inspiration for HEART OF THE MATTER. I was at a charity function for a local hospital I support, listening to a young mother talk of her newborn’s facial deformity. She spoke so passionately and poignantly of her experience, particularly of the surgeon who first came to talk to her and her husband when their child was just a few hours old. She described the confidence he instilled in her, how he was the first person to tell her that her son was beautiful, and just how much that meant to her. The story was so moving that I came to imagine the attachment one must feel to a doctor who is saving your child. This became the genesis for Valerie’s story.

I love exploring the shades of gray in life and creating real, flawed characters. I enjoy the challenge of making readers empathize with these characters even when they make unsympathetic choices and act in hurtful ways. As I wrote HEART OF THE MATTER I thought a lot about how we tend to view our lives as these fairy tales, these picture-perfect stories, and when something doesn’t fit within that – when somebody disappoints us or a relationship isn’t exactly what we thought – we tend to panic. So HEART OF THE MATTER explores what happens when things take an unexpected turn for the worst, and underscores the idea that life is never black and white, even in seemingly the most cut-and-dried moral scenarios. The book asks readers to imagine themselves in the place of both narrators, to really understand where each is coming from and, in turn, examine our own insecurities about relationships and marriage – which can be a great source of discussion. Some of the themes I wanted to explore in the book are: When is it right to forgive? When is it not? Is it ever NOT right to forgive? Can a relationship be salvageable after a betrayal? And why (especially as women) are we so quick to judge each other’s relationships?

Many readers have told me they or their friends have been in similar situations when you are caught up in what is right versus what you want; when your heart and your head are in two different places. I think that's the ultimate appeal of HEART OF THE MATTER: that anyone can find themselves so easily in the situations portrayed here. Even the unsympathetic characters have a kernel of something sympathetic about them.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Better Than Expected"by Karen P. (see profile) 07/05/11

We won this book for our book club, and some of us weren't sold on the idea of a book that's about infidelity, but also a beach read. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised. Good writing, interesting... (read more)

  "heart of the matter"by Carene O. (see profile) 07/03/11

A quick, easy summer read, but very predictable and didn't leve us with much to discuss.

  "Great title for a club of 30-something moms"by Brenda R. (see profile) 06/14/11

We had 15 members join us the evening we talked about this book and boy oh boy did it kindle some interesting conversation. It may not have been the best book we've read to date, but I think it brought... (read more)

  "True to life = Predictable"by Tammy B. (see profile) 06/04/11

Pretty much your man cheats on wife and then realizes his mistake. Characters are well-developed and likeable. The ending is very real but predictable which was kinda a letdown.....

  "heart ot the matter"by christina h. (see profile) 05/13/11

overall us girls felt like your gut instints are real & should not be over looked. Being married doesnt mean you lose your idenity &selfworth.

  "heart of the matter"by chris h. (see profile) 04/16/11

Talk about a no-win love triangle. Characters seemed interesting but flawed, and the whole sad mess possible. Choices we make have impact on so many people besides ourselves.

  "Heart of the Matter"by Cathy G. (see profile) 04/10/11

Not a lot of substance. The book drags on and is very predictable.

  "I wouldn't recommend it."by Tracy C. (see profile) 04/05/11

I'm not a fan of reading about people cheating on their spouse. The point was well driven about the dangers of a person feeling unfulfilled in their marriage.

  "Heart of the Matter"by Julie S. (see profile) 08/21/10

I normally love Emily Giffin's books, but found this one to be predictable and boring. Pretty disappointing.

  "Heart of the Matter"by Cindy W. (see profile) 07/21/10

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