I wanted to label this book a contemporary romance with the title of The One and Only an indication of the topic, (although personally I would have called it My One and Only), but on second thought I feel that this novel by Emily Giffin is really a study of the various types of love an individual experiences in their life and how that love changes over time. In a way it is a coming of age story, even if the heroine is 33 years old.
The novel takes place on a college campus, Walker University, in Texas not too far from Dallas. The coach, Clive Carr, is a larger than life character in the Walker community (he was even offered a coaching job for the Buffalo Bills – declined due to the winter weather), but is suffering after the loss of his wife Connie to cancer. In play is his daughter Lucy plus his wife’s best friend and her daughter, Shea Rigsby – who was raised alongside Lucy almost as a sister. Giffin relates the story of the season following Connie’s death where the Walker football team plays its heart out for the grieving coach so they can give him the college championship which has alluded him for thirty five or so years. The new freshman player, Reggie, is the best thing to happen to the university since Quarterback Ryan James played for Walker and helped them win the Cotton Bowl. Ryan has had an amazing career and is one of the top quarterbacks of all time, playing for the Dallas Cowboys. These are the key players with some supplementary characters rounding out the crowd.
We learn all this from Shea, who tells her story in agonizing detail (she had to use a big spoon because the little ones were in the dishwasher). Over the year Shea examines the relationships in her life – her mom, her dad who lives in New York with his current wife and children, her former boyfriend Miller and her current boyfriend Ryan, her best friend Lucy, her affinity for football especially at Walker U, her talent for writing, and finally Coach.
From this point on I’m going to discuss the book as a whole with some spoilers, so if you want to be surprised, don’t peek.
It is obvious from the beginning that Shea has a thing for coach, even while she is hooking up with Ryan. This is a May/December romance which slowly develops throughout the book. I not not exaggerating, the process happens at an excruciatingly plodding pace. I listened to this book on tape, (exceedingly well read by Sophia Willingham) and with a total of twelve tapes, the two don’t express their feelings until tape 9, they kiss on tape 10 (and accidentally reveal their secret to Lucy), have a fight on tape 11 (with no make up sex – despite Shea’s attempts to get Coach in the bedroom) and finally at the end of tape 12 there is some sort of resolution, but again, no sex. So don’t expect fireworks throughout this book (although there is a provocative scene when Shea and Ryan hook up). The story is simply Shea’s journey as she discovers what she truly wants from life (as well as who she wants as key players in her future). It doesn’t necessarily go where the reader wants it to go and the conclusion is less than satisfying. Perhaps that is why I’ve heard rumblings of a sequel.
I have some advice for potential readers. First off, if you think football is a bore, skip this book. Second, if the idea that an older man could be attracted to a much younger woman (or vice versa) is abhorrent to you (especially if this relationship borders on the incestuous), choose a different book to read. However, if you are attracted to the idea of an unfolding romance or are curious how such a relationship might come about, then The One and Only is a perfect choice. I also highly recommend the recorded version. The novel starts slowly, but it builds our interest as we become invested in the characters. Perhaps I should refer to one of Coach Clive colloquialisms – it’s not the win, but everything that has gone before that goes into the game. So, it’s not how the book ends, but the build up to the conclusion which is important. It’s the idea of what Shea is willing to sacrifice for the sake of love and whose love she chooses over all others. Read the book to determine the answer.
Three and a half stars.