WHERE WE BELONG
After five charming, relationship-themed hits (“Something Borrowed,’’ “Something Blue,’’ “Baby Proof,’’ “Love the One You’re With,’’ and “Heart of the Matter’’), Emily Giffin had a lot to live up to with “Where We Belong.’’ This new book deals with weightier material than its predecessors: a 36-year-old Manhattanite who is suddenly reunited with the daughter she secretly put up for adoption 18 years prior. Like Giffin’s heroine, this is a book decidedly more grown-up. Luckily, the author executes with a thoughtful finesse that makes this easily her best work yet.
Marian is a hard-working TV producer who tries to control her personal life the way she has successfully done with her career. (And we can all guess how that will turn out.) Despite her seemingly idyllic lifestyle — an apartment on Madison Avenue, dating the CEO of her network — Marian “never once breathed the smallest mention of my nearly two-decade-long secret to anyone,” Giffin writes. “Not to my closest friends in my most intoxicated moments or to my boyfriend, Peter, in our most intimate ones.” That secret, of course, is her daughter, accidentally conceived with her first love, Conrad, the summer before she left for college — a secret she also managed to keep from him.
But on one spring evening, everything changes for Marian when her daughter, Kirby Rose, shows up on her doorstep, looking for answers. “Where We Belong’’ is told from both Marian and Kirby’s perspectives, and their reunion is awkward, confusing —
Though Kirby sometimes seems unrealistically wise beyond her years (a minor flaw shared in the rendering of teenage Conrad), she can still conjure a reader’s own adolescent mind-set. We watch as Kirby, who has traveled nearly 1,000 miles from her St. Louis home, tries to psyche herself up to pop in on Marian. The problem? She feels intimidated in the fancy Upper East Side lobby of her birth mother’s apartment building. Take the doorman, for starters. As Kirby tells it, “His nametag reads JAVIER — but for a second, I think it says ‘Caviar’ — which I picture her eating on a high floor above me.”
As the pair bumble through the process of getting to know each other, we relive Marian’s love story with Conrad, and follow along on an unexpected relationship for Kirby. The story is heartbreaking at times (it’s impossible not to cry as Marian tells Kirby about the first few days of her life before giving her up for adoption), and Giffin employs her gift of endlessly relatable writing throughout. As in all her novels, she takes the minutiae of situations and personalities and draws them out in such detail that you instantly care about her characters.
Halfway through, you’ll truly be rooting for Marian and Kirby, as well as for Conrad (that story line is just too good to give anything away). As she’s done before, Giffin treats fans to cameos by characters from her previous novels — a fun surprise and the chick-lit equivalent of finding a crumpled five-dollar bill in a jeans pocket. “Where We Belong’’ will surely satisfy Giffin fans and easily garner the author new readers as well. It’s that special type of story that takes priority over getting to bed on time. And the payoff is well worth it.
New York, can be reached at rennie.