Monday, May 4, 2009

Title Thirty Seven: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman

Emelia falls for her married boss and breaks up his marriage. Next thing she knows, her two-day-old daughter dies of SIDS and she is stuck with an insufferably precocious 5-year-old stepson, William, who insists on puncturing the cocoon of grief she has built around herself. Everything she does makes her feel like a failure - as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a stepmother; she is a failed lawyer and a homewrecker; she cannot breathe. Her husband's ex-wife, a respected and revered obstetrician to the elite of New York City, does everything she can to make Emilia's life a living hell while her husband, Jack, gives off an air of mere tolerance; eventually even his patience breaks and her life lies around in jagged pieces and she has no glue with which to reconstruct it.

I would probably wax rhapsodic about this novel except for one thing: it's really a love letter to Central Park. The book is rife with obscure factoids about the structure and history of the park; Emilia spends all of her time there; her memories center on it; entire chapters revolve around it. I GET IT. New Yorkers love Central Park. It is the greatest park in the history of parks. (At one point Emilia, the first person narrator, even says this in no uncertain terms.) Your life is empty if you don't live near Central Park. You are a philistine if you've never been to Central Park.

The Park is probably much more than just a reference point; I'm sure there's some great metaphor I'm missing, but it's wasted on me because I have a headache from the anvilliciousness of it all.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is a decently crafted book with a thoughtful exploration of the themes of loss, love, grief, and family. Sometimes I wanted to hug Emilia; sometimes I wanted to spank William; sometimes I wanted to shake Jack. Unfortunately, my investment in the characters was sporadic and half-hearted because the cover may as well have had an "I (Heart) NY" logo on the front. I would have been more emotionally involved in the story if it were less about geography. Or maybe I just missed the point entirely.

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