103 book reviews later, and I'm still not sure I've gotten the hang of doing it. I started out reviewing books I read to my kids and books I myself was reading, and then, over time, I started reviewing almost exclusively review copies sent to me by publishers. Most of the books have been either Mommy books or chick lit, neither of which are genres I particularly care for. Early on I knew I had to view the books differently, asking myself which audience is the book written for, and is it well-written for that audience. This is something you just never really know, so I softball a lot of my opinions. The books that I feel are aimed toward readers like me, I actually tend to be more stringent with my criticism. Truthfully, I think I should be stricter than I am with all the books, although the two books that I didn't care for got me blistering hate mail from the fans of one book and the author of another.
The reason for my new mode of thinking is the fault of Emily Giffin's Baby Proof, a chick lit book of such high quality that I feel that now I can only inadequately describe how engaging it is.
Claudia Parr, a senior editor at a publishing firm in Manhattan, is spending her thirties happily childfree and married to her soulmate and best friend, Ben. Before marriage, Claudia and Ben both agreed they did not want children. Then, unexpectedly, Ben's biological clock begins to tick and he changes his mind with a vengeance, incessantly dropping annoying hints about motherhood to Claudia. This leads to resentment, which leads to fights, which leads to irreconcilable differences, which leads to divorce.
Claudia moves out of the apartment she shares with Ben and moves back in with her best friend Jess, a gorgeous high-rolling Wall Street whiz whose taste in men is as bad as her taste in fashion is good.
The majority of the novel focuses on Claudia's post-divorce life, and her steamy new relationship with her colleague Richard, a charming but louche older man who entertains Claudia and distracts her from her broken heart and her growing suspicion that perhaps she's made a horrible mistake, sacrificing her soul mate for her freedom.
And being a Chick Lit novel, it also deals with Claudia's frustrating but mostly lovable family; a sister dealing with infertility, another sister dealing with an unfaithful husband, and a flamboyant, untrustworthy mother.
This is all standard Chick Lit fare, but where it differs from the other genre books is high quality of Giffin's skillful writing and the care she takes with each character. Edie Bloom's Immaculate Conception had a million busy, zany things going on to distract the reader from the fact that it had a completely unmemorable plot. In fact, without going back and rereading the review, I honestly can't remember what it was. Baby Proof has a very simple, traditional plot: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, etc., and far fewer moments of excitement. What it does have, however, is care and time. Claudia's budding relationship with Richard is allowed to slowly unfold and develop into a clear, three-dimensional picture. Giffin has taken time to get to know these characters so well that she doesn't make a single false step, and although the reader may be rooting for Claudia and Ben to get back together, she'll enjoy every single bit of witty banter and hot sex between Claudia and Richard.
She'll also enjoy every bit of the book as a whole, with an ending that manages to be satisfying without wrapping everything up in a tidy bow or betraying the spirit of the characters.
For those readers who don't care for Chick Lit, this is the one book you'll want to read on an airplane. And for those readers who care very much for Chick Lit, Baby Proof should be an essential part of your library.
by Emily Giffin
June 2007 by St. Martin's
Saturday, September 22, 2007