First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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Emily Giffin, a graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia Law School, gave up the practice of law to become a novelist. This is her eighth novel to date.

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.” So goes the old children’s rhyme that describes the path many people take to parenthood. As sisters Meredith and Josie Garland approach 40, each woman wonders if she’s taken the right path to love, marriage and parenthood and whether long-buried issues related to a family tragedy are best kept quiet.

The sisters had always been opposites growing up in Atlanta. Meredith, the older by two years, was responsible and hardworking, while Josie was an outgoing free spirit and party girl. Although their relationship was bumpy at times, they were still close. Then the death of their brother changed everything.

Tragedy affects every family differently. Some are made stronger by loss while others splinter apart. In First Comes Love, the members of the Garland family are hurled into separate orbits of grief when Daniel, a newly engaged medical student, is killed in a car accident. Losing him also meant the loss of the family’s hopes and dreams for his future. The tragedy played a role in the onset of his father’s alcoholism and his parents’ subsequent divorce. It also became a wedge that drove his sisters apart, each believing she had secret knowledge about the circumstances surrounding Daniel’s death.

In the 15 years since that fatal night, Meredith follows what she thinks is a responsible career path and becomes a lawyer, ignoring an earlier dream of acting. She spends time with Daniel’s best friend, Nolan, because it seems like the right thing to do. Then she drifts into marriage and motherhood because those are the next steps, but she never really feels passion for her job or her family.

Josie puts her wild days behind her and becomes a grade school teacher. Even though she’s ready to start a family, she hasn’t had much luck in the relationship department and currently isn’t even dating. She didn’t expect to be 37 and still single, but she has always been headstrong and she’s not going to let being single stop her from becoming a mother.

As the anniversary of Daniel’s death approaches, each sister finds herself at a life-changing crossroad. Meredith is feeling pressured to have a second child that she doesn’t really want, while Josie can’t escape the ticking of her biological clock. It doesn’t help when the daughter of Josie’s former boyfriend is enrolled in her first-grade class, a daily reminder of her failure in finding love.

Alternate chapters are told from each sister’s viewpoint, providing insight into Meredith’s judgmental attitude and Josie’s seeming inability to commit. Some readers may find it hard to feel sorry for Meredith since she seems to have it all: great job, loving husband, adorable daughter. Rather than enjoying what she has, she forever questions the life she might have led under different circumstances. She can’t stop thinking that she might have made different choices if Daniel were still alive, and that her life might have been more fulfilling. Meredith has always done the right thing in life, but now she’s dissatisfied and poised to throw it all away.

Josie’s problem is more unusual. Once she decides to become a single parent, she starts to consider potential donors. For once in her life, she’s taking it slow and doing the research before jumping into a decision. Should she ask Gabe, her platonic roommate and best friend, or seek out an anonymous donor? Thinking that fathering her child could ruin Gabe’s chances with his new girlfriend, she finds a willing candidate, Pete, on Instead of making things simpler, Josie feels more confused as she gets to know Pete, a likeable guy who might want to be involved in his child’s life. Her anonymous donor would rather not stay anonymous.

Emily Giffin has a reputation for creating casts of interesting characters and making us want to explore the sometimes-complicated relationships among them. First Comes Love is no exception. Neither sister is entirely sympathetic, but their underlying emotions and motivations begin to make sense as we learn more about the impact of their brother’s death. At first it seems that each sister wants what the other has, a classic case of “the grass is always greener,” but Griffin takes us beneath the surface layers of sibling rivalry to the underlying guilt that each has felt about her brother’s accident.

Giffin’s writing style is lively and the story moves quickly with several unexpected plot twists, despite dealing with serious topics such as artificial insemination, marital dissatisfaction and death. There is no neat happily-ever-after to this story, but each sister makes the choice that she hopes will bring her the greatest happiness. Read the book to see if you agree! ■