two stars is a very charitable rating. it was tough to get into this book because i hated pretty much all the characters, even the children.
tessa is a mother of three, married to nick, a pediatric plastic surgeon. tessa used to be on course for a professorship somewhere, but decided to become a stay-at-home mom & spend more time with her kids. now she wonders if her minor domestic worries & repetitive stories about the kids are boring her husband, who seems to admire women with bigger aspirations.
nick is paged to the hospital one night to see what he can do for a little boy who fell into a campfire at a birthday party & burnt his face & hand. the little boy is the only child of a single mother, valerie. valerie is a lawyer who sends her son to the same prestigious private school tessa wants to send her kids to, even though valerie isn't wild about the snobbery of some of the other moms there. valerie feels an immediate connection with nick, which seems to be mutual...
...& this is where the book lost me. really? valerie is admiring foxy dr. nick while he's standing there telling her about how many skin graft surgeries her son is going to require? & nick is into her when he has a wife & two kids at home, & a little boy in a hospital bed requiring multiple surgeries? what are these people thinking?
valerie & nick begin an affair. at first it is primarily emotional--like that's any better than going to the physical level. tessa can tell that nick is more emotionally distant, that something is going on with him. one weekend when tessa goes to new york to visit her best friend, nick leaves the kids with a babysitter (what an awesome dad) & goes to valerie's place, where they finally do the deed & even exchange "i love you"s.
i really shouldn't have read any further. i hated all these characters. it seemed obvious that valerie was just looking for a daddy for her little boy, & i thought it was really sickening that she would set her sights on a married man who has a family of his own. i thought it was even more sickening that nick would sleep with her anyway, & even blow off the chance to take his own kids trick or treating in order to spend halloween with valerie's son. supposedly he does it because he feels bad that valerie doesn't have a partner & her son doesn't have a dad, but...fuck you & your pity, nick. couldn't any of these people look beyond their own libidos to see that there were quite a few innocent children in the mix that were going to get hurt no matter how this whole thing panned out?
& i also didn't really like tessa. i wished she would have been a little more straightforrward about her suspicions of nick. i wished her friends weren't so insipid. she does eventually confront nick & ask him if he's having an affair, & he denies it & treats her like she's insane for even asking. which, i will be blunt, is emotional abuse. lying to someone & making them feel like they're crazy & disgraceful for bringing their total valid concerns to you is emotional abuse. it undermines a person's trust in themselves. it really made me hate nick & wish he would get hit by a meteor. so when he confesses a few days later that he did have an affair, but it's over & he begs tessa to forgive him, i was proud of her for kicking him out. but i couldn't see any good ending to the book. if tessa kicks him out & goes on with her life...she has children that are going to suffer. if she looks the other way & lets nick stay for the sake of the kids, she is betraying herself, & the kids will feel that & be affected by it (plus nick won't have to face any consequences for his betrayal). if nick leaves tessa & goes back to valerie, then two characters i hate (valerie & nick) will find happiness together, & i hated them too much for that. if nick severs ties with valerie, her son suffers feelings of abandonment. giffin kind of wrote herself into a corner here.
which may be the point. in real life, cheating happens a lot & it's never all wrapped up neat & tidy with a pretty bow in the end. people get hurt & people make poor decisions that magnify that hurt for their loved ones. so maybe that's what giffin was going for here...but it would have worked a little better with more dynamic, interesting, likable characters.