Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
This book cemented for me the fact that though, while I like Emily Giffin, it doesn't seem as though I'll ever love her.
The premise of the book is that Marian, who I would definitely say is the protagonist despite the fact that the narration is split equally between her and her daughter, Kirby, gave up her child for adoption 18 long years ago. Now, at the age of 36, Kirby finds her and both their worlds are turned upside down.
I'd like to begin with a word about Giffin generally. She writes New York city like a mezzo soprano might sing a love song- with rich, warm, compelling undertones. Anyone who has ever been in New York City and loved it will long to be there again. This isn't to imply that the book focuses much on New York- it does not- but the snippets Giffin incorporates are lovely, the more so due to their understated nature.
Unfortunately, beyond that, I was unable to become fully immersed in the book. Maybe it was due to the glib, utterly stereotypical portrayal of adoption and the emotions of the persons involved in adoptions. Maybe it was the fact that switching between two viewpoints constantly didn't prove the best narrative technique in this book because it didn't allow me to become fully engaged with either Marian or Kirby before being yanked back to the other. Maybe it was because my ex boyfriend once flirted with a 18-year-old named Kirby at a New Years Eve party in New York City right in front of me and I never fully got over it. (True story.)
But I think it was mostly because Giffin seemed determined to make Marian as unlikable as possible, and most of the other characters either as stereotypical as possible or as utterly incomprehensible as possible. A novel where you can't really relate to or root for any of the characters is a bleak novel indeed.
I honestly don't know what exactly it was. Giffin has proven herself well able to make characters doing bad things come across as sympathetic and easy to relate to. (See Something Borrowed if in doubt.) However, the problem with Marian is that, throughout the story, she is never made to face the consequences of her actions in any real way. She continues to make excuses for her heartless, immature, and arguably morally reprehensible decisions and never expresses anything I'd consider to be real remorse. In the meantime, people forgive her left and right after what could only be described as supremely minimal effort on her part.
I vaguely gathered that we were supposed to dislike her boyfriend, Peter, but I couldn't. I mostly saw a mature person who was unlucky enough to be dating Marian. She continually acted out against and blamed him for her own poor decisions, refusing to listen to what were reasonable concerns and suggestions from him. I actually ended up feeling he was too good for her and that he dodged a bullet- and when the story swung too predictably for it to even be a spoiler to her and Conrad, her 'baby-daddy' I felt strongly that he was too good for her too.
However, unlike some, I greatly enjoyed the ending of the book. Some describe it as a cliffhanger or a disappointment or a setup for a sequel. I think those people don't understand what Giffin actually did- leave things slightly ambiguous, just like in real life, while allowing Marian to show her first real character growth in realizing that she can be at peace within herself and move forward. To me the book was not about romance as much as it was about finding yourself and forgiveness, though, so I approach this from that angle.
I also truly enjoyed Kirby's voice and wish we had gotten to know her better. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes Giffin's other novels, clear and crisp writing, or a feel good book that does not require you to think too hard.