First Comes Love by Emily Griffin

By Ekta R. Garg

July 6, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

Two sisters deal with the aftermath of their brother’s premature death years after the fact. One decides she needs to make a major life leap based on her biological clock, and the other fears she’ll need to make a life leap regarding her marriage. Both will need to figure out whether they can move forward and also what the future will look like if they go ahead with their decisions. Author Emily Giffin examines the long-term effects of grief in the fairly even novel First Comes Love.

Fifteen years after their brother, Daniel, died in a car accident, sisters Josie and Meredith continue to link everything they do to that day. Josie, the middle child of the family, finds only partial fulfillment in her job as a first grade teacher. Lately she’s been yearning for a child of her own. Now that she’s in her late thirties, she has all but given up the idea of finding a husband. Maybe, she thinks, she can just skip the husband component and go straight to the baby via artificial insemination.

Meredith, the youngest sibling, already has the husband and the child. She also has a grueling career as a lawyer in Atlanta, where she and her siblings grew up. In fact, she lives in the same house. Every day she walks by Daniel’s childhood room and remembers him.

She remembers how Daniel carried their parents’ expectations with grace and poise. After he died Meredith picked up the mantle and threw it over her own shoulders, but she’s not so sure she can carry the burden of those expectations as well as Daniel’s memory. Add to that her misgivings about her relationship with her husband, Nolan, who also used to be Daniel’s best friend, and lately Meredith feels like she’s about to buckle under the weight of everything.

With the fifteenth anniversary of Daniel’s death approaching, the sisters must confront their memories of that day. When their mother expresses a desire to commemorate Daniel’s death with a visit to New York City to visit a significant person in Daniel’s life, Josie and Meredith both have their misgivings for different reasons. Neither of them wants to deal with the obvious empty spot in their lives in such a tangible way, but with their personal situations rolling forward at full speed neither of them may have a choice.

Author Emily Giffin gives her characters ample room to express and exercise their grief. The story, told by both sisters in alternating first person narratives, unfolds at a steady pace. Readers should note how Giffin doesn’t hold back on either Josie or Meredith. Her handling of the event as well as its consequences will most likely ring true for those who know of someone or who themselves have lost a sibling.

The book’s sensitivity and emotional weight get thrown off balance by the sisters themselves. Josie’s yearning for a life partner are understandable, familiar even. Her childish behavior in many situations belies the fact that she’s 37 years old. Often her reactions in both action and word may confuse readers; she sounds like a twenty-something and not someone close to 40. The characterization of Josie becomes even more muddy by the fact that on the professional front she seems accomplished, prepared, and someone who gets recognized for her work. How can someone so good at her job be so flaky in the rest of her life? The dichotomy feels unreal at times.

Meredith may have the stable career, but she herself doesn’t seem so grounded. After Daniel’s death, Meredith appoints herself as the sibling who would fulfill all of her parents dreams. She sees herself as the family’s emotional glue, which would make sense if there was something there to hold together. By the time the story starts, Josie and Meredith’s parents have been divorced for years and the family has experienced years of dysfunction because of it. Readers may question Meredith’s logic in wanting to hold something together that fell apart anyway.

Still, Giffin does make some valid, thoughtful points about relationships, families, and death. For those reasons I would recommend readers Borrow First Comes Love.