Reviewed by Tori
Wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate understands the happily-ever-after business, yet somehow she’s still involved in her ex-husband’s life. In fact, Owen’s new wife may—inexplicably—be Jenny’s new best friend. Sensing this, well, relationship isn’t helping her move on, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll be able to bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and hopefully make one of her own.
Her timing couldn’t be more perfect, since Rachel will need her younger sister. Her idyllic marriage has just fallen to pieces in spectacular fashion after she discovers her husband sexting with one of his colleagues. Second chances aren’t in Rachel’s nature, but the desire for an intact family has her rethinking her stance on adultery, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ “perfect” marriage as a shining example, but to protect her sister Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their relationship—and reveal a secret about their family she’s been keeping since childhood.
During this summer of secrets and lies, temptation and revelation, Jenny and Rachel will rely on each other to find the humor in their personal catastrophes, the joy in their triumphs…and the strength to keep hanging on. (Goodreads)
Kristan Higgins’ romance contemporaries have always been an enjoyable escapism for me. I love the balance of humor and heartbreak she imparts as she builds an opposite attracts romance among the eccentric innate craziness of her small towns and their residents. If You Only Knew takes a departure from Higgins’s usual endeavors as the romance is more of an element that enhances the storyline than being a major aspect of the storyline.
Higgins’s focus is on a pair of sisters; detailing the highs and lows of their lives, their relationship, and addressing the lengths they will go to achieve the perfect life. Infidelity, both physically and emotionally, is the base on which this story is built on. While I’m not a huge fan of the cheating storyline, Higgins’s makes some interesting choices in the ways she showcases the various ways people can cheat on the ones they love and the means people take to protect themselves in these situations. Strong secondary characters contribute to their story, adding small but necessary pieces to the story until the picture fully evolves and we see how much the past can shape the future.
Jenny had everything she wanted until her husband announced one day he no longer wanted to be married to her. He divorces her only to remarry the perfect woman and have the perfect child he refused to have with Jenny. Jenny maintains a friendship with the happy couple to the point of going to their home for dinners and doting on their little girl. She eventually realizes this behavior is unhealthy and moves home to be closer to her sister and rediscover herself.
Rachel is a married stay at home mother with a set of adorable little triplets and a handsome charming husband she loves very much. When she discovers her husband has been cheating on her, she goes through a myriad of reactions only to settle on forgiveness and trying to make her marriage work. As time goes on, she discovers that while forgiveness is easy, it’s forgetting that’s harder. Suspicion, anger, and hurt all swirl together as Rachel tries to decide just how far she’s willing to go to keep her perfect life.
As Jenny and Rachel each take their journey to self discovery, they both learn that the key to happiness often starts within oneself.
The story is told in the present from Jenny’s and Rachel’s alternating points of view. While Rachel’s story is certainly sad, the infidelity shown here is a predictable and often told story. Adam has the perfect wife and life but looks outside of it as their marriage has settled into complacency. Rachel acknowledges some blame for their problems-their lack of communication being one of them- but refuses to allow her husband to use them to excuse his cheating. We watch her question everything from her looks to her ability to be a single mom at the age of forty. Her fears are real and provide an interesting look at marriage and the perceived roles we place ourselves in. There is a small romantic interest introduced but it’s a remarkably lightweight plot device used to push Rachel in the direction Higgins’s wants her to go.
Jenny’s story was far more interesting and definitely the stronger of the two story lines. While her husband didn’t physically cheat, he did emotionally cheat and continues to do so long after the divorce and remarriage. He clings to Jenny, using her friendship to assuage his guilt over his re marriage and child. She allows this; martyring herself to his needs without acknowledging why they continue to play this game. Even after she moves away, she continues to take his calls and drive into the city to spend time with him and his new family.
Jenny’s small romance comes in the form of her reclusive landlord, Leo. It’s here we see the true extent of Jenny’s martyr complex. Jenny is a fixer. Jenny believes her life will only be complete once she meets her prince and gets her happily ever after. Unfortunately this prince has some hefty demons and is unreceptive to a relationship which he proclaims loudly and often. It was hard to get a fix on him because we only see him through Jenny’s eyes. The mixed signals he throws out and Jenny’s excuses for his rude behavior shows she is too wrapped up in the dream to see the reality of the situation.
The ending is rather abrupt and leaves much open to interpretation as Jenny and Rachel both come to terms with the path their lives are taking. Some dragging in the storyline and Jenny’s complacency in some areas left me wanting to skip forward at times. I also felt Higgins’s should have made Jenny coming clean on one secret to her mother and sibling a priority rather than keep it to herself.
Regardless, I think Higgins branching into women’s fiction has potential though the off the cuff humor and eccentricity that makes her previous works so much fun was missing. While humor does not a story make but it certainly helps pave the way.
Overall Rating: C+