BookBrowse Reviews Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman

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Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman X
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 352 pages

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A strikingly beautiful novel for our time, tackling the absurdities of modern life and reminding us why we love some people no matter what

From the book jacket: 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.

Comment: Crossing Central Park to pick up her stepson once a week is a minefield of emotions for Emilia.  The women with their strollers and, worst of all the playgrounds with their happy, playing children and watchful mothers, eat away at her soul reminding her of Isabel, the daughter she lost to SIDS at just two days old.  She blows up at her sister, is at breaking point with her husband, can't abide his ex-wife, and the final straw are the innocent but precocious questions of 5-year-old William, son of her husband and ex-wife, who is her responsibility one afternoon a week. 

She knows she should love William, or at least attempt to like him, especially considering that it is her affair with his father that has turned his five-year-old life on end; but with Isabel dead she just can't stand the sight of him, or pretty much anyone else for that matter.  She pushes away all who try to get close to her by liberally inflicting hurt on all around, especially on little William, who despite being mature for his age is still just a little kid desperately struggling with his own very real concerns. 

How should the reader side?   How much sympathy should we have for Emilia?  How much hurt is it acceptable for her to inflict in her pain, and on who?  The novel's turning point is when her husband's patience finally gives in and they face off in a make or break moment; but the absolution that allows her to start to rebuild her life and come to terms with her lot comes from a different source.  At the end of this heartfelt and well-paced novel nothing tangible has changed; Emilia still misses Isabel, still finds William's questions trying, still finds it a challenge to cope with the ex-wife; but she has survived and grown through her grief, having been transformed into someone who can appreciate the "accidental beauty" of life in both the good and bad moments.

"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.

This review was originally published in February 2006, and has been updated for the January 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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