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Love and Other Impossible Pursuitsby Ayelet Waldman
Synopses & Reviews
With wry candor and tender humor, acclaimed novelist Ayelet Waldman has crafted a strikingly beautiful novel for our time, tackling the absurdities of modern life and reminding us why we love some people no matter what.
For Emilia Greenleaf, life is by turns a comedy of errors and an emotional minefield. Yes, she's a Harvard Law grad who married her soul mate. Yes, they live in elegant comfort on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But with her one-and-only, Jack, came a stepson — a know-it-all preschooler named William who has become her number one responsibility every Wednesday afternoon. With William, Emilia encounters a number of impossible pursuits — such as the pursuit of cab drivers who speed away when they see William's industrial-strength car seat and the pursuit of lactose-free, strawberry-flavored, patisserie-quality cupcakes, despite the fact that William's allergy is a figment of his over-protective mother's imagination.
As much as Emilia wants to find common ground with William, she becomes completely preoccupied when she loses her newborn daughter. After this, the sight of any child brings her to tears, and Wednesdays with William are almost impossible. When his unceasing questions turn to the baby's death, Emilia is at a total loss. Doesn't anyone understand that self-pity is a full-time job? Ironically, it is only through her blundering attempts to bond with William that she finally heals herself and learns what family really means.
"How a five-year-old manages to make the adults in his life hew to the love he holds for them is the sweet treat in this honest, brutal, bitterly funny slice of life. When Emelia's day-old daughter, Isabel, succumbs to SIDS, her own life stalls. She can't work; she can't sleep; Central Park, once her personal secret garden, now is a minefield of happy mother-child dyads. Since Isabel's death, husband Jack's only solace for the guilt of breaking up his sexless marriage with Carolyn for Emelia's (now-absent) passion and love is joint custody of William, now five. What Emelia cannot bear most are Wednesdays, when she must cross the park to collect William at the 92nd Street Y preschool and take another shot at stepmotherhood. Carolyn, William's furious mother and a renowned Upper East Side OB/GYN, lives to nab Emelia for mistakes in handling him. Carolyn's indicting phone calls raise the already sky-high tension in Jack and Emelia's home, but they don't compare with Carolyn's announcement that, at age 42, she is pregnant. The news pushes Emelia to confess to Jack two things she shouldn't. William is charmingly realized, and Waldman (Daughter's Keeper) has upper bourgeois New York down cold. The result is a terrific adult story." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In the opening scene of 'Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,' Ayelet Waldman's compelling and artfully drawn new novel, Emilia Greenleaf is making her way through Central Park on her way to pick up her stepson, William, from daycare. The park, her refuge since childhood, holds the solitude she craves — if only she can make it past the playgrounds. Emilia's infant daughter, Isabel, has recently died,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) exiling Emilia from the careless camaraderie of mothers and leaving her marriage to Jack Woolf in danger of collapse.
Isabel's death leaves Emilia, also, to cope with William, Jack's child from his first marriage. Emilia wants to love William, if only for Jack's sake, though he is a guilt-inducing reminder that her affair with his father inflicted lasting damage. But now that Isabel has died, Emilia finds William's presence insufferable. Her honesty on this point does not make her an immediately likable character, but it does steer this novel of a bereaved mother away from any hint of bathos. Emilia's voice is terrific — sharp, witty, funny, resilient, sarcastic, passionate and very angry. She derides support groups, pushes away friends, tries the nearly unbelievable patience of all who love her until, at a crucial moment, Jack finally says, 'It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, Emilia. Isabel's death doesn't entitle you to do and say whatever the hell you want, to hurt whomever you want.'
Grief does give a strange, unwelcome power to the griever, and adults defer to Emilia's loss, keeping a safe distance in various ways. William, however, must spend each Wednesday afternoon with her — and she with him. William is a remarkable boy, precocious and serious, prone to pointing out to everyone within hearing that he's lactose intolerant. Emilia describes him as being like 'a very small sixty-two-year-old man.' But William is just 5 years old, still struggling with his parents' divorce and with the very idea of death. Emilia's feelings are the least of his concerns. In one particularly wrenching moment, William, while instructing Emilia on the intricacies of eBay, suggests pragmatically that they sell Isabel's things online. After all, since she's dead, she's not going to use them. The moment is so painful that it's hard to remember he's just a child, and Emilia's harsh response feels justified. Or it does until Jack comes home and sees past William's terrible suggestion to his innocence and confusion — and his fear.
This complex dynamic shapes and propels the book — there's a continual tug-of-war of sympathy — and so does the growing awareness that Emilia, for all her candor, is not a completely trustworthy narrator. Indeed, her unreliability is one of the sources of this novel's tension and power. This is the story of a woman struggling through her grief, yes, but it's also the story of a woman forced by loss to re-evaluate her past and her choices, even her desires. She tries hard to connect with William and repair her family, but in pursuit of the perfect moment — the moment when she can imagine 'how we must look to an observer, a mother and her young son, laughing and running through the rain' — she forgets about William himself, the boy right beside her, shivering with cold. The novel is beautifully paced and unfolds seamlessly, but as it builds, there's a disconcerting sense that Emilia is not telling the whole story — and she isn't. Emilia isn't being duplicitous; she's simply lost in this landscape without a map. There's one vital truth she cannot see; another that she cannot admit. The novel turns on the moment when Jack's boundless patience finally runs out and they face off at last, opening the path to a complete rift or to healing.
Absolution comes for Emilia from an unexpected source, and she is able, finally, to emerge from her grief, to forgive her betrayals and those of others — to forgive even the fact that love is not the stuff of fairy tales but something that grows from the ordinary moments, good and bad, that make a life. There are maps of Central Park, but Emilia, though often lost there, never buys one, sensing perhaps that the truest discoveries are made by plunging off the path into unknown territory, willingly or not. At the end of this absorbing novel, Isabel is still dead, and William still asks too many questions, but Emilia herself is movingly, powerfully transformed, having journeyed through the most difficult terrain a parent can imagine, learning on her way to appreciate life's 'accidental beauty,' its unexpected and inexplicable moments of grace.
Kim Edwards is the author of 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter' and 'The Secrets of a Fire King.'"
Reviewed by Kim Edwards, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
"[This] may also be the first chick-lit novel...that in addition to being a romantic, shocking and sometimes painful page-turner does the unthinkable: it actually says something new and interesting about women, families and love." Chelsea Cain, The New York Times Book Review
"Compelling and artfully drawn....The novel is beautifully paced and unfolds seamlessly, but as it builds, there's a disconcerting sense that Emilia is not telling the whole story — and she isn't." The Washington Post
"The beauty of Waldman's writing is her ability to...
"Despite a predictable plot and a heroine who is not always likable, Waldman manages to offer a quick and graceful read. And through her vivid descriptions, Manhattan, especially Central Park, comes beautifully alive." Seattle Times
"[P]rose that can be funny, but is more often stilted and graceless....It's not that the plot coincides with reality; it's that the author's personality keeps intruding on her character's." Newsday
"[A] hyperventilating dither, made somewhat more interesting knowing the author's backstory: Ayelet Waldman...wrote a provocative essay last year...declaring that she loves her husband...more than her four kids. Way to keep the fray going. (Grade: C+)" Entertainment Weekly
"Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is neither a trite nor a frivolous love story. It is original and refreshing, told in a surprisingly honest voice. It is the voice of Ayelet Waldman, one that we look forward to hearing again." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"[A] wonderful book, engaging and startlingly honest....
"The characters...are well-drawn and complex....While the subject matter seems grim, there is plenty of humor, and Waldman is a razor-sharp observer of modern life. Her fast-paced and endearing novel is a keeper." San Antonio Express-News
"[T]he 32 chapters of Love click by briskly; lubricated by plenty of dialogue and plenty of sex, some funny and some carrying more than a note of exhibitionism....offers some felicitous writing and a satisfying end." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Love and Other Impossible Pursuits can be gobbled up in just a sitting or two, zipping along toward its dependably cathartic climax." Los Angeles Times
"It's Emilia's relationship with her stepson, not her husband, that forms the book's backbone....And no matter Emilia's state (furious, resentful, at peace or otherwise), she's always sharp, wickedly funny, opinionated and cheerfully bitter, lending depth and energy to this wise, entertaining book." San Francisco Chronicle
"Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is clearly out to irritate some Mommy groups. It may also be the first chick-lit novel...that in addition to being a romantic, shocking and sometimes painful page-turner does the unthinkable: it actually says something new and interesting about women, families and love." New York Times
"Ayelet Waldman...looks past headlines and into the heart. What she finds there is hope for us all." Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
"I thought the heroine was a great accomplishment....And William is a triumph." Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce
"I read this book in one sitting while lying on my favorite couch. And I'll read it again on a future road trip. And I'll read it for a third time in the bathtub. Ayelet Waldman is that good." Sherman Alexie, author of Ten Little Indians
"Waldman makes the reader laugh at the spectacle of a mother trying to manufacture love for one child, while making the reader tearful about the loss of another child. In the end, this novel conjures up the magical balance of both." Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon
"A beautiful novel. If you are not moved to tears, then your heart is carved from wood." Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Waldman's provocative new novel — now in paperback — provides an emotionally gripping, unflinchingly honest look at what it's like to live and love in the real world.
Ever since she was a little girl, Emilia believed that she was intended for only one man — her other half. She was sure that upon seeing each other for the first time, they would know they were meant to be. That Jack could have married someone else before Emilia found him had never entered her mind. She certainly didn't bank on William, his precocious five-year-old boy who — now that he is Emilia's step-son — has become her responsibility every Wednesday afternoon. An obsessive know-it-all and his mother's mouthpiece, he is always one step ahead of her as she negotiates the mystifying world of the Manhattan pre-schooler.
In this moving, wry, and candid novel, widely acclaimed novelist Ayelet Waldman takes us through one womans passage through love, loss, and the strange absurdities of modern life.
Emilia Greenleaf believed that she had found her soulmate, the man she was meant to spend her life with. But life seems a lot less rosy when Emilia has to deal with the most neurotic and sheltered five-year-old in New York City: her new stepson William. Now Emilia finds herself trying to flag down taxis with a giant, industrial-strength car seat, looking for perfect, strawberry-flavored, lactose-free cupcakes, receiving corrections on her French pronunciation from her supercilious stepson - and attempting to find balance in a new family thats both larger, and smaller, than she bargained for. In Love and Other Impossible Pursuits Ayelet Waldman has created a novel rich with humor and truth, perfectly characterizing one womans search for answers in a crazily uncertain world.
About the Author
Ayelet Waldman is the author of Daughter's Keeper and of the Mommy-Track mystery series. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Believer, Child magazine, and other publications, and she has a regular column on Salon.com. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California, with their four children.
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