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First Comes Love Reader’s Guide

By Emily Giffin

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

READERS GUIDE

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Did you identify more with Josie or Meredith? Why? Did that change over the course of the novel?

2. Josie almost writes off her relationship with Pete because she doesn’t feel enough of a spark, but he argues that chemistry can develop over time. Do you agree with him? Do you think the de-velopment of the relationship between these two characters felt realistic?

3. Nolan tells Meredith that he initially decided to hide the truth about the night Daniel died because it wouldn’t have helped anyone. Would you have done the same in his position? When is keeping such a big secret from a loved one justifiable?

4. Daniel’s death is a source of great guilt for many of the characters in this novel. Compare and contrast the different ways that guilt manifests itself in their choices. How do you think Meredith’s and Josie’s lives might be different if Daniel were still alive?

5. Discuss the theme of motherhood in the novel. What does being a mother mean to Meredith, to Josie, and to Elaine? What does it mean to you?

6. Many of the characters in the novel struggle with the idea that the life they’re living doesn’t necessarily look like the one they might have imagined or hoped for themselves. Have you ever felt this way? Using examples either from the book or from your own experience, discuss how that feeling can be both a negative and a positive force.

7. What do you think allows Josie to finally get over her feelings for Will, after holding on to them for so many years?

8. Imagine for a moment that your best friend or sister tells you she is having a baby on her own, as Josie decides to. How would you react? What would you say to her? What would you want to hear, if you were the one making that decision?

9. Why do you think Meredith decides not to leave Nolan right away? Would you have made the same choice in her position?

10. At the very end of the book, Josie thinks to herself that love and forgiveness “are often one and the same.” Do you agree or disagree with that sentiment? What are some examples of forgiveness being given over the course of the novel?

11. Meredith struggles with the idea of taking time for herself, worrying that both her family and her career won’t survive without her. Do you think this is a common fear for women today? What do you think of Amy’s argument that “If you end up happier . . . this could really be a gift to Harper in the long run” (page 232)?

12. This novel doesn’t end with a “happily ever after”—-both Meredith and Josie make their decisions, but the reader doesn’t know what the ultimate outcome for each will be. Why do you think the author chose to end the novel where she does? What do you imagine happens next for these characters?

About this Author

A Conversation with Emily Giffin
Random House Reader’s Circle: Tell us a little about FIRST COMES LOVE. What is the story about?

Emily Giffin: FIRST COMES LOVE is a story told from the alternating perspectives of two thirty-something sisters, Josie and Meredith, each facing a critical crossroads in her life, while struggling to come to terms with a family tragedy and the secrets that surround it. Sister stories have always been among my favorite in fiction, whether it’s the Quimby girls in Beezus and Ramona, the March sisters in Little Women, or Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in Sense & -Sensibility, so I was excited to write a story examining this relationship. But beyond the sister bond, this book is also about marriage and motherhood, friendship and family. And of course it’s about love – my books are always about love!

RHRC: Did your relationship with your sister provide inspiration for this story?

EG: Inspiration can be a difficult thing to pinpoint, but I definitely draw on all my relationships and experiences when I write. My older sister, Sarah, is my closest friend and my biggest supporter, and I know she says the same about me. But we’re also capable of really hurting each other, and sometimes I think that is a function of our closeness. In some ways, the closer you are to someone, the more vulnerable you become. Maybe this is because we show these people our truest selves, or maybe it’s a simple matter of being more invested: The stakes are higher the more you care. But that is the contradictory dynamic I wanted to explore in this story. I wanted to talk about women who, despite loving each other and sharing the same family and upbringing, are capable of misunderstanding each other in sometimes critical ways. These misunderstandings come to define Josie and Meredith’s relationship, and what they have to overcome in order to reclaim both themselves and their relationship. Fortunately, I can say that my disagreements with my sister have never run so deep, but then again, we have not had to endure a terrible family tragedy. For the Garlands, I think that accident changed everything.

RHRC: How do you think FIRST COMES LOVE is different from your previous novels?

EG: FIRST COMES LOVE deals with the aftermath of loss, and the long–term ripple effect a single tragedy can have on a person and a family. This theme of grief is one I’ve touched on previously, but never to this extent. In a broader sense, I would say my first seven novels were very much about finding love-that one romantic relationship to fulfill and complete us. And although the title FIRST COMES LOVE would suggest the same, this book is more about finding the courage to live life on our own terms. After all, romantic relationships can often be gravely disappointing. People leave; they disappoint; they die. But we still have other paths to family and fulfillment. FIRST COMES LOVE is about that journey.

RHRC: Do you see yourself as more of a Meredith or a Josie? Did you find yourself taking sides as you wrote the book?

EG: I could probably identify a little more with Meredith, if only because she and I are both married with children (and I used to be a practicing attorney). But I actually found Josie to be more likable through much of the story. As I switched voices, though, I found myself switching sides. I could see both points of view because I dwelled in both their minds. My stories aren’t autobiographical, but when I write in the first person, I always find emotional things in common with my protagonist, regardless of how different our lives might be on paper.

RHRC: How do you navigate writing characters who are flawed but still likable, while keeping the reader engaged to the end?

EG: I think there is a difference between being likable and being flawless. Some of the most lovable, wonderful people are the most flawed-and in fact, don’t we all sort of resent women who are too perfect? I think creating empathy is the key. Yes, my characters make mistakes and hurt others, but they are good people at heart, and I enjoy the challenge of making readers root for them in spite of their unsympathetic choices. After all, life is about the gray areas. Things are seldom black and white, even when we wish they were or think they should be, and I like exploring that nuanced terrain.
RHRC: How do you approach a character whose actions you don’t necessarily agree with?

EG: As a writer, it can be tempting to try and dictate morality or happy endings, but ultimately, I think those stories feel less realistic, nuanced, and compelling. So I do my best to stay true to the characters I’ve created and really try to determine what they would do in certain situations, not what I would do or what I wish for them to do. In that way, fiction can sometimes feel like motherhood and friendship. We want the best for the people we love, but we can’t always control those outcomes. And once again, I think it all comes down to empathy-in both fiction and real life.
RHRC: This is your eighth novel. How has your writing process evolved?

EG: It’s actually no different now than when I wrote my first book, which is to say that it’s still a very organic, character–driven process. Other than a vague sense of beginning, middle, and end, I generally have no idea where the story is going when I start writing a book. As I get to know the characters and as the relationships between them form, the plot evolves accordingly. It can be a frustrating and inefficient process at times-and sometimes I do wish I had a more outlined, organized approach to writing, but I enjoy being surprised along the way.
RHRC: Will you always write about relationships?

EG: Yes! Relationships are so integral to who we are as people. -Ultimately, the sum of our relationships really defines our lives.

RHRC: What sort of research did you have to do for FIRST COMES LOVE?
EG: I never do much research when it comes to underlying emotions-perhaps because I consider myself very naturally empathetic. In other words, I didn’t talk to people about losing a sibling or child. But I did have to do some research for Josie’s reproductive storyline. I talked to women who conceived with sperm donors and read a lot about the topic. Incidentally, I think I would have chosen this route if I had found myself unmarried at thirty–eight or thirty–nine-so I could really relate to Josie’s decision.

RHRC: You don’t see a lot of truly platonic male–female friendships in fiction, and the one between Josie and Gabe is such an important part of this book. What made you want to write about that rela-tionship, and how is that different from writing about friendship -between two women?

EG: I know a lot of people subscribe to the When Harry Met Sally theory that men and women cannot be friends in a purely platonic sense. But I strongly disagree and strive to create realistic male–female friendships in my fiction. It’s actually a dynamic I explored in my first book, Something Borrowed, with Ethan and Rachel’s friendship, and that was one of the very few quibbles I had with the movie adaptation (in which Ethan professes his love to Rachel). As for the differences in a male–female friendship, I really think it depends on the two people, as no two friendships are the same. But if I had to generalize, I would say that male–female friendships tend to be a bit more straightforward, less complicated, and less marked by undercurrents of competitiveness.

RHRC: A lot has been said about how women today feel more pressure than ever to “have it all”-the perfect job, the perfect marriage, the perfect family. Do you agree?

EG: I absolutely agree, and I think that premise shaped the direction of this book. As wonderful as it is for women to have choices, I think in some ways, those choices have added a layer of difficulty to our lives. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. And I don’t think social media is helping the situation, with what I like to call the “hashtag blessed” phenomenon-the beautiful, curated versions of our online lives which often bear little resemblance to reality. Maybe some are bragging; maybe others are simply trying to keep up; maybe some don’t even realize they are doing it, but I think it can lead to anxiety and dissatisfaction, something you see reflected in Meredith throughout FIRST COMES LOVE. I think it’s important for us to remember that there truly is no such thing as “having it all.” There are always compromises we make in our lives, things we inevitably give up to have something else. This is certainly true with both Meredith and Josie. They envied each other but had trouble seeing the things they did have. I think that can be a trap for all of us.

RHRC: As you said, many of your books show the start of a romance, when two people are falling in love and finding their way to each other. With Nolan and Meredith, we see a couple in a very different part of the relationship, once they’ve been together awhile and are struggling to make it work. How is writing about marriage different from writing about dating? Do you prefer one to the other?

EG: Of course marriage is different than dating, just as marriage is different with and without children, if only because the stakes are higher. But all relationships are different, and it’s really difficult to compare one to the next. I also think it’s impossible to understand what’s happening inside another relationship, particularly a marriage. It’s so easy to judge from the outside, but only those two people really know what is happening-and sometimes it can feel like a mystery even to them. I do believe that the vast majority of marriages are complicated works in progress and seldom the fairy tale we wish they would be. I think the most successful ones involve communication and forgiveness, and I think we see that with Nolan and Meredith.

RHRC: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

EG: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think I ever sit down to write a book with a message in mind, but inevitably one emerges. In FIRST COMES LOVE, I think that message is that you can’t perfectly script your life. There will always be bad things that happen to you. But ultimately, we are in control of our lives. We can choose our way and decide to be happy.

RHRC: FIRST COMES LOVE was optioned for a film, meaning we may get to see these characters on the big screen soon. Do you have a dream cast in mind?

EG: Casting has never been my strong suit, perhaps because the characters seem so real and vivid in my mind, and I have a hard time letting those images give way to Hollywood. But I’m thrilled that the book has been optioned by wonderful producers, and look forward to their ideas. And yours! I absolutely love when my readers cast my books, so please send me your suggestions via Instagram (@emilygiffinauthor) and Facebook (Facebook.com/emilygiffinfans)!

RHRC: What’s next for you professionally?

EG: I’m involved in several book–to–film projects, including FIRST COMES LOVE and the long–awaited adaption of Something Blue. But my real focus is on writing my ninth novel-which will be released in the summer of 2018. I’m in the early stages now, creating a new world and characters, but as always, expect a cameo of a familiar face!
 
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