First Comes Love
Author: Emily Giffin © 2016
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Literary Fiction
Sub-genre: Sisters, Domestic Life, Literary
Book received by: Purchased on Amazon
The Garland sisters, Josie and Meredith, shared a sisterly bond and love for each other that became a challenging relationship in their formative years. Their fragile bond splintered following a family tragedy. Fifteen years later, both have unfulfilled dreams for their lives. Josie, single and a teacher, longs for motherhood. Life seems to be passing her by, so she decides to pursue a path to her goal. Meredith settled into a storybook life with a career as an attorney, marriage and motherhood. She similarly feels her life is happening, although not necessarily the one she wanted. The annual reminder of their shared loss approaches and both women find themselves at a crossroads. The sisters must confront their past mistakes and consider the choices for their futures, as individuals and family. Their paths will offer them the life happiness they seek, if first they can learn forgiveness and trust and remember the importance of love.
Busy moms (and dads): From the book jacket blurb, this one held promise, but sadly I found my expectations went unfulfilled. I wish I could recommend this book with zeal, but for me, it fell flat. On the heels of the controversy over the love match in Ms. Giffin’s last book The One and Only, it’s a big improvement, but it doesn’t come close to the stories and characters she’s crafted in the past.
The plot held the most promise. Two sisters in a strained relationship after a family tragedy, both with unmet hopes and dreams for their lives, who have to reconcile their interpersonal differences and make changes to their individual lives to find their happiness. Then the details of the story and subplots happened.
The characters were introduced through a prologue, which included the family tragedy that alters the trajectory of everyone’s lives and their relationships. Big picture plot points: Each sister starts the book unhappy with elements of her respective life. The story arc follows them in their individual pursuit of happiness, and realization that their long-standing unhappiness is connected to the family tragedy from fifteen years prior. Each woman has her own issue to resolve regarding the loss so she can move on.
After the prologue, the story is told through the alternating POV of the sisters, Josie and Meredith. Through their actions and thoughts, both women are portrayed such that each seems superficial and narcissistic. Josie longs for marriage and motherhood but has no prospect in sight for the former, so begins investigating alternative options for the latter. Meredith is married and has a daughter, a part-time position with a law firm and a lot of dissatisfaction with her life. Through the course of the story, I found that both women managed to end up in a place very similar to where she began. Somehow, despite their lack of real growth or change, they were somehow beginning to finally move past the family tragedy, repair and appreciate their relationship as sisters. Ms. Giffin is skillful at taking a rather unlikable character, humanizing and giving her redeeming features (Darcy from the Something Borrowed and Something Blue books) so that readers will connect with root for them. I’m disappointed that didn’t happen for me through her development of Josie and Meredith. Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles for me was their individual hang-ups over the family tragedy. Life changing? Yes. Devastating? Without question. Life derailing? That aspect I’m not so sure about. Possible? Sure. To me, the way it was written, their tragedy caused damage a long ways into the future, and to an extreme I personally did not understand.
All-in-all, the book is an easy read. Ms. Giffin is a talented writer and story-teller. I finished the book quickly in part because of this and in part because I was drawn the characters she created, and the change and connection I expected for both characters. There’s a fair amount of exposition in the book, typical of her style, but it’s polished and reads smoothly. The story, the challenges the women face in their efforts to find happiness and their struggles to overcome the repercussions from their shared tragedy will resonate with plenty of readers, I’m sure. I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Featured image: Hardback jacket cover
Book design: Victoria Wong
Have you read First Comes Love? How did you feel about the story arc for the two characters? Did their tragedy and reactions resonate with you?
Is First Comes Love on your “to-read” shelf? Have you read other books by Emily Giffin? Or similar women’s lit books you would recommend? Please share in the comments, I’m always on the lookout for new authors to try!