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.)
"[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...mak[e] Emilia a sympathetic and likable character even at her most frustrating. Waldman avoids contrivances and easy answers even as she moves the novel toward a surprising and rewarding conclusion." Booklist (Starred Review)
"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....[T]he story is so compelling...that you stick by [Emilia] almost out of loyalty. And it's worth it." Providence Journal
"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
"[T]he most riveting and sharply rendered novel I've read in years....Once you begin this book, there will be no putting it down. Once you've finished, you will never forget it." Julie Orringer, author of How To Breathe Underwater
"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
Harvard Law graduate Emilia Greenleaf's perfect life with her beloved Jack is turned upside down by her new preschool-age stepson, William, a situation that is further complicated when she loses her own newborn daughter, but it is through William that she begins to heal and to discover what family really means. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 50,000 first printing.
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. What were your initial impressions of Emilia? In what way did your image of her change as you learned more about her? As she narrates, is she always honest with us and with herself? How does she balance humor and intensity when describing what its like to be a woman on the edge?
2. Discuss the many forms of love described in the novel. Is love ever a truly impossible pursuit? What factors make it seem that way to Emilia?
3. How does Emilia cope with being a pariah among the other preschool parents? What are the criteria within this community for determining whether a woman is a good mother? What purpose does their competitive attitude serve? What does Sonia seem to think about the culture of American mommyhood?
4. What does Emilias own mother teach her about being a parent? How does Emilias mom compare to Jacks mother from Syria?
5. Discuss the authors choice of New York, and Central Park in particular, as the backdrop for much of the novel. How does Emilia perceive the wonders and dangers of this locale? What fragments of her childhood can she revive in the park?
6. Is the tension between Jack and Emilia solely related to the loss of Isabel and the presence of a testy ex-wife? How might the early months of their marriage have gone in the absence of such agonies? Did their relationship change very much as they went from being lovers to being spouses?
7. What seems to account for the vast differences between Emilia and her sister Allison? Out of the many parenting styles presented in the novel, which seems to be the ideal? In what way are parenting styles reflective of an adults overall outlook on life, as much as his or her concern for a child? How do you personally determine when a level of caution has become irrational and unrealistic?
8. What do you make of Williams seemingly nonchalant response to tragedy, such as loudly announcing the absence of the Twin Towers while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge? What do children see (or not see) compared to adults? What did you make of his attempts to draw a family picture and his depiction of Isabel as an angel?
9. Do you agree with Jacks assertion that Emilia married him because she was trying to become her father? Do you believe his statement that he married Carolyn because he loved her? Do you agree with his friends who believe that age had everything to do with his attraction to Emilia? What ultimately is the basis for deep romantic attraction?
10. What keeps Emilia from experiencing the Walk to Remember in the same way that the other families experience it? Does the walk nonetheless have healing results for her?
11. After her blowout argument with Jack, Emilia takes refuge in her best friend, Simon, and a jaunt to Barneys. What makes her friendship with Simon such a lasting one? Why is she in some ways more comfortable with him than with Mindy? Why is Simon the ideal person to accompany her as she faces her new waistline while shopping?
12. How significant is Judaism to Emilias identity? How do she and William contend with issues of spiritual traditions? What other elements shape Emilias sense of self?
13. How would you characterize Emilias father? Do you empathize with his ex-wifes desire to rekindle a romance with him?
14. Do Emilia and William share any common personality traits? Is she genuinely reckless or insensitive to his needs? Why is it so easy for Jack to believe the accusations that Emilia is not fit to care for his son?
15. What motivates Carolyn to provide Emilia with pathological evidence that Isabels cause of death was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Were you happy to see Carolyn achieve happiness in the end with a man who seems suited to her and a baby on the way?
16. Emilia gets her hands on numerous guides to stepparenting and even pays a visit to Williams therapist. What wisdom does Love and Other Impossible Pursuits offer stepparents?
17. At the end of the novel, Emilia confirms her fathers advice about rational thinking; she says that mystical ideas and hopes interfered with her marriage to Jack. Do you agree with her? Is the concept of bashert, the notion of meant-to-be, unrealistic?
(Discussion questions courtesy of Doubleday.)