Emily and Einstein surprised me. I began reading it and set it aside after a chapter or two–the writing was awkward and the story was too farfetched for anything less than a fabulous novelist to pull off. I planned to take it back to the library–I have a pile of books to read now and I couldn’t see slogging through this one. Then I picked it up again to flip through the chapters and got hooked. Sort of hooked. Linda Francis Lee has produced a formula modern romance light on eros and long on fantasy. She has really unappealing major characters who have to carry large parts of the story. The central idea is just nuts. But I stayed up reading it until dawn.
Emily is married to a Wall Street financial mogul from an old, wealthy, Upper East Side family. Emily herself is the daughter of an unknown father and a flagrantly feminist mother, a woman too colorful and too made up to have given Emily and her younger sister–different father–much of a stable life. She did, however, bequeath her the rights to a rent-controlled apartment in midtown that, unbelievably, is airy and large and desirable. Which Emily gives up when she marries Sandy, the aggressive rich guy who wants to be great but is actually just deluded. Sandy lives in prime real estate in the Dakota. You begin to see how this is going.
We get lots of Dakota–John Lennon was shot here (history! celebrity!) and the apartment is in this corner of the building (very large monthly maintenance fee) and these are the rooms (many) and the period decor (classic, to die for) and Sandy promises to deed the apartment to Emily so she will always have a home (right, sure he does). Then Sandy dies in a freak accident on a snowy evening as his hired car delivers him to the animal clinic where Emily, an editor at a small publishing house, volunteers on Friday nights. Also eliminated is a little white dog who runs out in front of a cab–wild fishtail skid–grinding crash–unable to resuscitate–uh oh. But Sandy refuses to stay dead.
An angel, or something, who is a cross between Samuel Clemens and Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts Sandy a deal that he can survive his own death but he won’t much like how. Sandy takes it and finds himself trapped inside the body of the scruffy, banged-up dog. Who goes into the clinic, barely alive, to be saved. Et cetera. Emily winds up with the dog. The pooch seems oddly smart and knowledgeable about her apartment and her life so she names him Einstein. At Sandy’s funeral, her horrible mother-in-law informs her that the family will be taking back the apartment and she will have to find some other place to live. Nice timing.
No one gives up an apartment at the Dakota without a struggle so part of the plot is set. A delicious hunk with secret sorrows and a hidden past is a neighbor (who knew?!) and begins to rescue and pursue Emily. (Emily, BTW, has long white-blonde hair and is very attractive but doesn’t care about clothes, which is supposed to make her more human, whatever.) A nasty bitch in the publishing firm takes credit for Emily’s work and a new boss who resembles Tina Brown displaces the kindly old publisher (who was in Emily’s court) and issues a challenge a minute. Work is not going well. Then Emily’s dissolute young sister turns up out of the blue and moves in. Einstein hates her. Always has, as a matter of fact.
Alternate chapters are told from Emily’s POV and the dog’s POV. The dog was a faithless cur when he was a human and now has some good deeds to do or Obi-WanColorfulAngelCharacter will make him disappear. The New York City Marathon enters the plot. People struggle to tap into their better natures–or they never had a better nature to begin with and their wicked ways hang out like old underwear. Emily discovers that Sandy was not at all what she thought and that her entire life is a tissue of lies. Sandy makes a seriously weird dog and takes a looonng time to evolve past the Enough About You, Now Let’s Talk About Me and How Much I Hate Dog Food stage. The little sister is a total loser slob.
I didn’t care a fig for Sandy, as a guy or as a dog. The sister wasn’t very sympathetic. The hunk was rather likable, when he was around. But I was curious to see what Emily would discover and decide about her life. So I finished it. It was OK. Guaranteed, you won’t find too many contemporary romances with the wonky plot of this one. It might seem more exotic to someone who didn’t walk past the Dakota about twenty times a week. But it was dawn when I closed the book so I cannot pan it because it was nowhere near unreadable. If you like romances, this one mixes cookie-cutter plot devices with a lot of dogwalking, famous architecture and coming to terms with heartbreak. I give it two or three solid stars.
Emily and Einstein Linda Francis Lee | St. Martin’s Press 2011