124 of 135 people found the following review helpful
If you read the reviews here, it is pretty easy to figure out who truly appreciates Ayelet Waldman's writing and who has a vendetta against her (the reasons are elaborated below). I am updating this review since the book is now the basis of a movie "The Other Woman" starring the talented actress Natalie Portman (as of this writing she has gotten buzz for her role in "The Black Swan" and promises to bring equal passion to "The Other Woman")
I discovered one of Waldman's mystery books years ago, one set in suburbia with a heroine who managed to set things right in spite of dealing with all the usual distractions of parenting, from car pools to household disasters. I liked the book a great deal as well as the author's writing. I knew very little about the author but I did receive a nice letter from her after I wrote a glowing review of her mysteries.
At the time, I had no idea Waldman was about to be at the center of a controversy, especially after she spilled her guts on her website, "Bad Mommy", writing about suicidal feelings, abortions and other issues which made some parents attack her viciously. You may still be able to see some of her posts at that site, although I believe she is about to end that blog and move on to writing for Salon, the online magazine. At this point in time, she may have moved on to other pursuits.
Controversy aside, I DID like this new book (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits). Many readers may not find the idea of a mistress who steals another woman's husband to be to their liking but it is to Waldman's credit that she doesn't turn away from the messier aspects of life or from presenting characters who are less than noble. Parenthood also is seen as both challenging and, at times, absolutely horrendous. I can relate to that. I love being a parent but have days when I fall into bed absolutely exhausted, glad the day has ended. Thankfully, those days are in the minority. But anyone who writes about parenthood or any relationship (marriage, dealing with older parents...take your pick) and leaves out the bumps in the road isn't the kind of writer I find believable.
Anyway, I urge you to stick with this book because you won't be able to predict where it is going and you'll get much out of learning how the main character evolves...and evolve she does. I actually found myself drawn to her....or, at least, somewhat sympathetic for a person who suffered that much.
Now, HERE'S WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER REVIEWS and why some of them may not have given her a fair shake:
As noted above, Waldman has been the center of some controversy due to her "Bad Mommy" blog, a place where she actually writes openly about subjects which set some parents on edge, even to the point of hatred.Some are quite sanctimonious and judgmental, even though I have a feeling more than a few of them have some painful secrets of their own, ones they aren't so willing to share. Many people do.
Waldman was also a regular visitor to UrbanBaby, something that won't be a secret once you start reading Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, since it is mentioned in the book quite a few times. She is hardly a rabid fan of the site and she passes judgment on some of the other parents there. Fans of UrbanBaby may take offense from this.
Because of this, I caution readers to give this book a fair shake. Waldman is a good writer and she strives for integrity and honesty. Love this book or hate it but do so because of the book itself, the writing and whether it truly engages you. Separate that from how you may feel about Waldman herself. To do anything less is to be unfair to the work itself and to the world created there.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2007
As a guy unaware of Ayelet Waldman's background, I was intrigued enough by the title, LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS, to buy it. I assumed it would be about someone who really wants to love but can't figure out how it's done or whether love exists. But that's not what this story is about. It's about a cold, quick witted mother, Emilia, who's got issues long as a hopeful kid's Christmas list: a dead infant daughter, an apparent know-it-all five year old stepson; problems with men (her husband and her dad); problems with women (her mom, all moms with infants, her husband's first wife). Kavetch she doesn't. She tries to keep going, but she navigates as poorly through NYC (could anyone be more hopeless at hailing a cab in the rain?) as she does through relationships--all the while refusing to condesend to using any sort of guide (a map, a therapist).
I enjoyed the evolution of her relationship with the smartest five year old in the world, feeling bad for all parties as they stumbled about. And I kept turning the pages until Emilia got to a really bad place that made her truly human but isolated. I didn't know how Waldman was going to convincingly bring this story to a conclusion, but hats off to her--she movingly pulled off the magic.
Along the way, I hope I've become more compassionate to couples who have lost infants, step-families and really smart five year olds. Next time I see fiction by Ayelet Waldman, I'll pick it. I imagine that like her heroine, she's tough, smart, boldly honest but unlike her heroine, she knows her way around human hearts.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2006
From the moment Emilia Greenleaf, a brand-new associate at a high-powered New York City law firm, first set eyes on Jack Woolf, she knew he was her bashert --- her soulmate. Never mind that Jack was married with a small son; Emilia knew that his presence was magic and that they were destined to be together. Sure enough, Emilia eventually gets her way: Jack falls in love with her and the two begin a torrid affair that culminates in Jack's divorce, his remarriage to Emilia, and the birth of their daughter Isabel.
It's all very romantic, right? Maybe not. Emilia's dreamy notions of soulmates and destiny constantly run up against the reality of Jack's intellectually gifted but fragile son William and Jack's brittle, controlling ex-wife. Only when newborn Isabel dies of SIDS does Emilia finally need to confront her expectations for marriage, parenthood and family life. Wallowing in her own grief, Emilia is blind to the suffering of those around her, especially to the suffering she herself inflicts. Her healing process is slow, but before Emilia's journey ends, she'll realize that real love is as much about discipline as it is about destiny, and that magic can be found in the most unexpected places.
Emilia is a sometimes unlikable narrator, self-absorbed, thoughtless, perfectly willing to admit that she can't stand her precocious stepson. She holds grudges against the adults who made her own childhood so difficult, but refuses to admit the role she plays in William's own damaged sense of self and family. Nevertheless, Emilia does have flashes of insight, and she gives voice to troubling thoughts that many mothers have guiltily felt, if not admitted, at some point in their lives.
In addition to being an insightful psychological portrait of one grieving woman, Ayelet Waldman's novel effectively paints a portrait of Manhattan's bourgeoisie, obsessing over nursery school etiquette and kindergarten admissions, bicycle helmets and booster seats. It's also a love letter of sorts to New York City, and to Central Park in particular. Emilia's beloved childhood destination becomes for her a painful reminder of all that she's lost, and Waldman's endearing, detailed descriptions of the park are a reminder of all that Emilia can yet regain.
Ayelet Waldman, perhaps best known for her Mommy Track mystery novel series, famously (or infamously) wrote in a 2005 opinion piece in the New York Times that her love for her own four children is less intense, less important, than her love for her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon. LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS also will bring up many of those same points, arguments that will continue to fuel debates in countless mothers' groups around the country.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2006
I can't possibly be the only reader who wished for the absolute worst to befall the main character when she told everyone how safe Central Park was and went off on her own! Although all of the characters are either one-dimensionsal or unbearable (even the kid!), and the trite ending (...and a young child shall teach you about love....yada yada... ) is beyond eye-rolling. I would have given this one-star for the irritation of having bothered to read this after a professional review I read of it gave it a rave of some depth... except that Central Park plays a fabulous character here, and even though I hoped all the characters would disappear forever into the park, I thoroughly enjoyed all the details about the park itself.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2007
I really enjoyed this book, even though I set out thinking I'd dislike it, following the articles I'd read by Ms Waldman about her relationship to her husband and children. It was difficult to read this book without wondering what might be autobiographical: as in her articles, the character is very vocal about her near-obsessive love for her husband; she's a lawyer (Ms W is a former lawyer); the husband has been married before (as was the case with Ms W's real-life husband, Michael Chabon) and the character experienced a tragic loss (the character loses a baby to SIDS; in real life, Ms W had a pregnancy she had to terminate at quite a late stage).
Reading the book, I wondered about the reality of both the character and Ms Waldman: can a relationship continue with this kind of obsessive love propelling it? At one point in the book, the character talks about her love being a destructive thing, and I imagine it to be so. I found these kinds of questions fascinating as I was reading them.
I think Ms Waldman gets a lot of the emotions really right in the book. How Emilia can't walk by a park and watch children playing without thinking of her baby daughter. The fact that she doesn't want another baby, despite people telling her it'll help her heal. She, on the other hand, knows that a baby won't take away the loss of her dead daughter, and would instead prefer to sacrifice any future babies if this would mean getting Isobel back. From what I know, I think that's much truer to what someone would feel if they were in that situation. So a lot of this book rang true for me.
There's something quite nutty about Emilia, and, by extension, Ms Waldman, but that just made the book more fascinating for me. I'd love to know how close it is to her true-life situation.
24 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2006
Let me start by saying that, as a feminist, I hate it when talented women get treated, and often dismissed, as "the wife of" simply because they are married to famous or successful men. Take the case of Nicole Krauss (author of "The History of Love") and Siri Hustvedt (who wrote the magnificent "What I Loved"): two wonderful, talented and --not that this is particularly relevant, but still-- beautiful novelists. They happen to be married, respectively, to Jonathan Safran Foer and Paul Auster, but they have more than enough talent to be judged on their own merits. The fact that they are married to successful, intelligent (and, in the case of Hustvedt, very hot) men only makes me want to say -- You go girl!!
But let's be honest here. Ayelet Waldman is not one of them. If she weren't married to Michael Chabon (a fact that, unlike Krauss and Hustvedt, she plugs in her book and everywhere she goes), she wouldn't have been able to land an agent, let alone a publisher in a million years.
"Love and Other..." is the first novel I've read by Waldman, an experience I would only repeat under duress. If this were a movie, it would be a TV movie of the week or, at best, a tearjerker that goes straight to video. Most of the characters are such cliches that it's impossible to take them seriously, and Jack and Emilia, the only two who have at least enough depth for the reader to believe they are actual people (as opposed to cartoons), are so ridiculously unappealing it's impossible to care about them. Jack, a diminutive lawyer whose lips are so red he constantly looks like he's wearing lipstick (the kind of man every woman dreams of!!), cheats on his wife after he meets Emilia, whom he ends up "rubbing" against in his office (a chapter that reads like third-rate porn). "I'm Jack's red Porsche," Emilia says of their affair. Funny, she looks to me like a beat-up Chevy: whiny, immature, selfish, and, despite a Harvard degree, not very intelligent at all.
The story that follows these annoying characters is predictable, stale and terribly written. "Love and Other..." is not the worst book I've read in my life, but it's pretty close.
31 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2006
It takes some skill to fool people into thinking you have written a great novel (Booklist gave this a star????) when you have produced drivel with not a single likable character. It's really an achievement to make a mother who's just lost a baby unsympathetic, but this author has done it! In fact, the only character more irritating than the narrator is the stepson, who I would have pushed off a pier. I wound up wondering whether the poor baby was better off wherever souls go than living with these self-absorbed morons. I can't figure out why the reviewers think this was funny. What was funny? That she sold this to a big publisher? Like -- joke's on them type-stuff? I don't get it. What am I missing? Was it supposed to be a black comedy? Does anybody want my copy?
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2006
Some reviewers have objected to the character of Emilia, finding her to be too much of a prickly pear, her treatment of William cold. And yet it is this same prickliness that I find to be one of the novels saving graces, from an artistic viewpoint. If Ms. Waldman had drawn Emilia as being a cupcake of lovability, the story of a woman trying to find her way back to life after the loss of a baby would be nearly impossible to read. As it is, we really don't like Emilia in the beginning, and that's a good thing. And as the story progresses, Ms. Waldman does one of the wonderful novelist/magician tricks: she shifts the mirrors. The reader sees that Jack's first wife, Caroline, is cold to the core; that William can be difficult and hurtful, even if Emilia's treatment of him is not all we would want it to be; that Emilia does indeed come with her own baggage from a less-than-perfect childhood. And then there are those magnificent descriptions of Central Park...
People who dismiss this book - either because of its subject matter or because it's been characterized by the NYT as chick-lit or because it has been written by the polarizing Ms. Waldman - are only doing themselves a disservice. Because Ms. Waldman hasn't written a good novel, she's written a great novel, about how bad things sometimes happen to imperfect people, about pain and redemption, about Love & Other Impossible Pursuits.
I envy her having written this novel.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
I read this book in one sitting, I was so involved with the characters and the story. I read all of Ms. Waldman's Mommy Track Mystery books, but of course this is a totally different genre and type of book.
Ms. Waldman is a wonderful writer, I just sat back, and wrapped myslef up in her words. I shed a few tears, laughed out loud and just forgot about everything else until I could finish this book.
When I put it down, I found myself thinking and thinking about the characters, I just wasn't ready to let them go. Especially William!
Thank-you to Ms. Waldeman for an afternoon's experience with a book, one that I havn't had in a very long time.
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2006
Not to rain on anyone's parade here--with all these beaucoup glowing reviews--but I was bored stiff with this one. There was absolutely nothing unique or refreshing about this read. The characters seemed flat, lifeless, and not very likable. And I just could not see anything redeeming or noteworthy about the story. In fact, it's no more than mere domestic drama at its worst!
The main character whines and moans her way through. She comes off narcissistic and even the step-child she tries to embrace is unlikable. Ultimately, though, there is no literature here. I am assuming this is the goal of the author, but there is better material to be had on the Lifetime channel.
I have to say, for my reading time, I need quality works written by writers who have more going for them than what I see here.