Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Review: Something Borrowed

While waiting to get my hands on Emily Giffin's new release (Where We Belong), I reread her debut novel, Something Borrowed.  As always, the book version is infinitely better than the movie, which made some changes to the characters that I think will really impact the sequel (Something Blue).

In Something Borrowed, Giffin tells the story of Rachel White, a New York lawyer stuck in a tedious job.  For her entire life, Rachel has played second fiddle to her glamorous, confident best friend, Darcy Rhone.  Darcy is brazen and brash, gorgeous, self-confident, and materialistic.  Darcy has always led a charmed life, with the perfect job and the perfect man just appearing as a matter of course.  The story begins on the night of Rachel's 30th birthday, when Darcy (predictably) throws her a surprise party and seizes the opportunity to steal the show.  What's not so predictable is that after Darcy goes home drunk, Rachel goes out for "one more drink" with Darcy's fiance Dex.... and the two end up sleeping together. 

The next day, Rachel realizes that she should be racked with guilt, yet can seem to summon up very little of that emotion.  Instead, she starts to recognize her long-buried attraction to Dex and resentment for Darcy.  Thus launches an affair between Rachel and Dex.  Most of the story centers around the "what ifs": What if Rachel had started dating Dex herself when they were in law school together, instead of introducing him to Darcy?  What if they continue their affair?  What if Dex calls off the wedding?  What if Rachel loses her lifelong best friend?

I truly enjoyed Giffin's writing in this book.  It was the first of hers that I read (first read it two years ago), and it inspired me to read all her others.  However, I actually don't enjoy the storyline very much.  I simply don't like Rachel as a character.  Her entire life is stuck in a state of limbo due to her lack of initiative.  In this book, she justifies her affair with her best friend's fiance by telling herself that Darcy has taken advantage of her for their entire lives.... but that apparently Rachel didn't recognize this until she fell in love with Darcy's fiance.  Then she comes up with all kinds of examples of how Darcy has apparently wronged her throughout their 25-year friendship.  In this case, it seems to me that it's Rachel, not Darcy, who's the bad friend.  At least Darcy, while somewhat shallow, is open and honest about her emotions instead of letting them fester for two decades.

Furthermore, the rest of Rachel's life also displays a lack of action.  In college, she dated a boy named Joey for several years, in spite of the fact that they had nothing in common and that she was actually interested in someone else.  But hey, Joey liked her, so might as well date him.  In law school and after, she clung to her boyfriend Nate as a security blanket, something to make her life transitions easier.  As an adult, her only significant romantic relationship has been with a guy that she wasn't even all that attracted to or interested in, simply progressing because he was interested in her.  And now, she's in this relationship with Dex--simply because he finally acted on his long-hidden feelings for her and she is too indecisive to end the relationship (or to ask him to leave his fiance for her and legitimatize their relationship). 

Likewise, Rachel is stuck in a job she hates, doing menial tasks at her law firm for a senior partner, with no sign that the situation will ever change.... because she's not going to do anything to change it.  When she finally makes an independent decision (to fly to London to visit her lifelong friend Ethan), the reader begins to hope that maybe she'll get a fresh start and turn her life around.  But nope, she returns home to the newly-single Dex, and we end the novel with Rachel feeling happier than she ever has been before.  So apparently all she needed was a man to make her happy?  It no longer matters that her job is on a dead-end track, or that she's lost her lifelong best friend and alienated her own parents in the process?  She's got the guy (who, it seems to me, is not that much of a prize, given his lengthy indiscretion and dishonesty while engaged), so all must be well.

In spite of my problems with Rachel's character, though, I truly enjoyed Giffin's writing.  She neatly weaves together the present with Rachel's memories of growing up.  In spite of having created an unlikable character and a story in which the reader is encouraged to root for the "other woman," her storytelling prowess is clear.  This is why I stuck with Giffin to read Something Blue, where Darcy gets a chance to speak for herself.  Several of Giffin's other books (Baby Proof and Heart of the Matter) also try to get the reader to root for a rather (in my opinion) unsympathetic character, yet somehow, Giffin pulls it off with style.  Recommended to women who enjoy some drama.

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