The One and Only
Ballantine / May 20, 2014 / $28.00 print, $13.99 digital
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.
If I had to pick a quote that summarizes all of Emily Giffin’s books, then I would pick this one by Hugh Mackay, an Australian social researcher:
Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain . . .
That is what makes Ms. Giffin’s books so heartfelt, as her characters stumble their way through the quagmire of life.
There are some subjects that can be taboo to readers, especially romance readers, like infidelity, betrayal, triangles. But as demonstrated by the success of Ms. Giffin’s past books, which address all of these topics, somehow in her hands it doesn’t matter. Her ability to present both sides of the coin challenges our romantic dogmatic beliefs as she explores with sensitivity our human frailties and strengths, and in the process, make us truly care for her characters. And of course it is a given, that she thoroughly entertains us.
In her newest release, The One and Only, Ms. Giffin explores the impact of a loved one’s death on the people left behind. Connie Carr lost her fight with cancer in only ten months. Her death quickly changes the dynamics in the Carr and Rigby families. Shea’s mother was best friends with Connie, and Shea is best friends with Lucy, the Carrs' daughter. Shea had the run of the Carr family home, and now with Mrs. Carr’s death, Shea has lost her only glimpse of normal family life, since her parents divorced when she was young.
At the time, I only knew what Mrs. Carr had told me: that my mother was sick and needed to go away for a little while to get better, and that Lucy and I were going to share a bedroom and be like real sisters. I missed my mother, but was relieved to be in a happy home where there was always someone to play with and grown-ups acted like grown-ups. I loved how orderly everything was—supper always served promptly at seven, prayers said aloud at night, beds made each morning. I loved the way Mrs. Carr was always in a good mood, singing in her sweet, high soprano while she did housework. . . it was during that time that I really learned the ins and outs of the game, going to practice with Coach, watching games with him, studying his play diagrams.
As time passed, and my mother returned to her old self, my childhood adoration of Coach Carr morphed into a different kind of reverence. I still mostly saw him as Lucy’s dad and a close family friend . . . but at times, especially during the football season, my affection for him verged on hero worship.
Lucy Carr never doubted her father’s love, but it was her mother who kept them connected. Lucy, unlike Shea, never shared her father’s passion for football. Now, without her mother bridging the communication gap, she is struggling to find common ground and a way to connect. Lucy expected that she and her father would grieve together, finally deepening their father-daughter bond, but her father avoids talking of their loss and immerses himself even more in the day to day activities of building a winning team. Lucy is left bereft and bewildered, wondering how her father can consider a game more important than his family.
Shea understands though. She knows that Coach Carr is only able to achieve respite when his thoughts are on the game.
With things so unsettled, Shea finally recognizes that some of what she is feeling is dissatisfaction about the status quo. She is in a relationship with a man she cares about but knows she’ll never love. She is overqualified for her position within the Walker football organization, but can’t imagine football or Coach Carr not being a part of her life. It is only when Coach Carr intervenes that she finally makes a change:
I didn’t hesitate. “I have a job.”
“Right,” Coach said. “But this one is better. And if you get it, you should take it. . .”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll call him.”
“Good,” he said, leaning back in his chair with a satisfied expression. “Oh. And another thing?”
“Yeah?” I said, as Kenny Chesney crooned Come over, come over, come over in the background.
“How do you really feel about Miller?”
I shrugged, my answer clear.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought . . . And between you and me, Lucy’s right . . . you’re too damn good for that boy.”
It is during this time that Shea’s subliminal thoughts gain momentum, as her hero worship of Coach Carr continues, albeit with a new twist:
Lucy nodded in agreement as we heard the garage door rumble.
“Daddy’s home,” she said.
I instinctively stood up a little straighter, then reached up to fluff my hair. Lucy narrowed her eyes and gave me a funny look. “Did you just fix your hair?” she said, staring at me.
“No. Of course not,” I said, feeling embarrassed though I wasn’t sure why.
“Okay. Cause it looked like you did that thing you do in bars when a hot guy walks in.”
She imitated me perfectly.
“I didn’t do that,” I said, feeling certain I was telling the truth. Maybe I had fixed my hair—but not in that way.
“Good. Because if you had, that would be really . . .weird.”
With her mentor giving her the impetus to change, Shea finds herself, as Facebook would say “not in a relationship,” and starting her dream career as a sports reporter for the Dallas Post, covering the Walker football organization.
But her love life doesn’t stay stagnate long because she runs into Ryan James, Walker’s former golden child, winner of the Heisman Trophy, and now a Dallas Cowboy quarterback.
Ryan is every women’s dream man and soon he and Shea are dating but even then thoughts of Coach break through:
Without his lifting his head off the pillow, I heard Ryan’s muffled voice say, “Morning, babe.”
“What time is it?” I asked, my head pounding.
“Six-thirty,” Ryan said.
“Where’s my phone?”
“In my bathroom. You were charging it.”
“What else did I do?”
Ryan rolled over and looked up at me, smirking. “You don’t remember?”
They were pretty much the worst three words you can hear after a first date, particularly when you’re standing in the guy’s bedroom, wearing his clothing, with a bad hangover. . .
“Did I talk to anyone last night?”
Ryan laughed and said, “Yeah. You called Coach. You were hilarious.”
“Hilarious how?” . . . “What did I say?”
“On which topic?” Ryan said, sitting up, exposing a torso so cut that it didn’t look real. “Your tirade against the Longhorns? Your stance on women in the locker room? Or your declaration of undying love for him?”
You will want to join Shea on her journey, as she discovers her path to happiness. During this process she learns to let go of her ideas of perfection and her childhood impressions, accepting that the individuals in her life are more flawed and less flawed than she thought.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of The One and Only by Emily Giffin, available May 20, 2014:
Leigh Davis, blogger