The One and Only by Emily Giffin | Book Review

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Title: The One and Only
Emily Giffin 
Published by
Ballantine Books [2014] 


Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets [source].

(This review contains spoilers)

I ordered this book mostly off the rave recommendations of multiple people I follow on twitter, and of course, the synopsis triggered my Friday Night Lights nostalgia, so I was looking forward to picking it up and diving into another universe featuring a small town with a football obsession.

This FNL sentimentality both helped and harmed my opinion of the book. I loved reading a story of a group of people full of passion and enthusiasm for something, but I found myself constantly comparing Coach to Eric Taylor, and thinking of his deceased wife Connie as Tami Taylor. Unfortunately, none of the characters lived up to the picture in my head of my favourite fictional married couple and the characters that surrounded them on the Jason Katims headed show.

I didn’t feel as though any of the characters underwent any, or at the very least, believable character development.  Ryan James went from ‘pro-footballer and good guy’ beloved by all to an abusive asshole in what felt like breakneck speed (a transition that felt cheap, like it was a decision made simply to disqualify him as a viable love interest for Shea) and Lucy’s change of heart at the end came so far out of nowhere that I almost got whiplash. None of the other characters were interesting in the least – not Shea’s mom (whose name I have forgotten), her dad, her step-sister, her step-mom, Miller, Neil, or Smiley.

Shea Rigsby, the protagonist of the novel, felt wimpy. She never made a single decision for herself. She let Coach choose her life path – he told her to apply for the job at the paper, so she did; he told her she should break up with Miller, so she did. Even the decision to end her relationship with Coach was made because Lucy wanted to. I did understand that decision, their friendship was placed above a romantic relationship, but rather than being a demonstration of loyalty, it felt like Shea once again could not make a decision for herself. She even states that she had been counting on Coach to counteract her “decision” and keep their relationship together, yet again refusing to make a decision for herself, and instead counting on a man – specifically Coach – to save her from sticking to her guns.

The character of Coach was another character that felt as though he had no personality. He was simply a vessel for football talk to spew out of – something that could connect him more strongly to Shea. The only scene in the novel that he seemed to have some spunk and some sort of personality was when he was fighting with Shea. I do understand that he was meant to come off as sage and wise and stoic, but instead, he came off as completely bland.

From what I’ve gathered from Goodreads reviews, the aspect of the book that readers had the most trouble with was the fundamental plot point of the novel – the relationship between Coach and Shea. I have to agree with them. Their relationship seemed mildly incestuous. Coach states at one point that he practically raised her, and Shea comments multiple times throughout the novel that he was more of a father figure to her than her own father was. The argument of “you can’t help who you fall in love with” can also be made for their relationship, but it felt like a hero worship crush that was inorganically, and all of a sudden, reciprocated. It happened so quickly that I found myself doubtful when they protested to Lucy that it never would have happened if Connie were alive. It seems unbelievable that those feelings would have manifested so quickly, had they not been there for quite a while.

In addition to all of the plot points and characters, I had a few issues with the writing style, specifically the dialogue. It felt forced and contrived and unbelievable at times. This, more than anything else, pulls me out of a story the fastest, and I found myself tripping over conversations between characters.

Overall, although I enjoyed the nostalgic elements that called back to one of my favourite television shows, there were major hurdles that I was unable to get over. It was this that ultimately led to my reading experience being an uncomfortable and mostly negative experience.


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