Emily and Einstein isa novel that dances between genres: women’s fiction, magical realism, romance,dog lovers’ fiction (surely its own genre by now). The novel doesn’t fit into any neat package, andLinda Francis Lee employs these incongruities, including a paranormal flourish,to deepen her story’s emotional punch.
The titular Emily is a book editor, happily married to herhusband Sandy—until he dies, and she finds out that he was a serial cheaterwhose family immediately starts eviction proceedings against her. She’sfurious, heartbroken, and humiliated. In time, she realizes that Sandy was acharming, self-destructive man with big ambitions and no follow-through. Hewanted to run the New York marathon; he never managed. He wanted to be a rower,a basketball player, an honorable husband. He failed, and failed again. Beingrich and beautiful has a way of shielding a man from his own failures. As Emilyfinally understands, her husband “was a man used to getting his waywithout having to bargain or even ask.”
But Emily and Einsteinis not a simple novel about marital betrayal. Emily was stubbornly blind to thereality of her marriage: as she says, she “was never good at sensingtrouble.” Sandy lied to her from the very beginning, yet she forgave him. Shedeliberately didn’t see her marriage,her husband, her life: she loved a man who didn’t exist. She created a phantomhusband, a paranormal partner.
And here’s where the fascinating magic aspect of the novelcomes in: Lee gives Emily’s scruffy little rescue dog the soul of a man: to beexactly, Sandy’s soul. Wasn’t itPythagoras who believed that a good friend was reincarnated as a dog? It soundscomplicated and weird, but Lee presents animal re-embodiment as a one-timeoccurrence (no need to eye your dog for resemblances to your dislikable, deadex).
Sandy-as-Einstein is a scruffy, sarcastic, and funny dog whofinds it hard to come to terms with the fact he was a rabid little mutt as ahuman. And Emily has her own learning to do: she needs to understand that sheis an expert at avoiding truths that stare her right in the face. Any of us whohave avoided a powerful, painful truth know the utter conviction of denial. Butthis plot really hinges on one question: can Emily recognize Sandy-as-Einstein—atruly impossible truth? Lee turns what could be a simple redemptive tale, inwhich Emily gets over her faithless former husband and meets a lovely guy namedMax, into a real challenge: can Emily accept a truth that her commonsense tellsher cannot be true?
I loved the use Emilyand Einstein makes of its fantastic premise: the way that a touch of magicand humor makes deep sorrow and painful secrets more visible. With a nod toPythagoras, Lee will have you believing in miracles and second chances—and youmight even find yourself eyeing the family pet in a new light.