When we first meet Emilia Greenleaf, the narrator of Ayelet Waldman's novel, "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," she is dashing across New York's Central Park, dodging baby strollers and averting her eyes from every playground. This is because she recently lost her newborn daughter to SIDS, and can't bear the sight of other children. Whatever sympathy this may elicit in the reader is quickly tempered by the hostility she shows for her stepson, William, the neurotically precocious 5-year-old--who refuses to ice-skate without a helmet--she is en route to retrieve from preschool.
It's easy to see why William is so tentative about Emilia. She seduced his father, Jack--a borderline-too-good-to-be-true Jewish lawyer--at the law firm where they both worked, breaking up his marriage. And although William is a weird kid, given to phrases like "So it is," he's still just a little boy, making Emilia's relentless irritation with him hard to take. It helps only slightly to learn that Emilia is, in fact, reliving her childhood: her father had brought two daughters into the marriage with her mother, then left for another woman.
In the end, the book's strength--and the reason we come to like the narrator--is that it allows Emilia to grow not because of her loss but in spite of it. She and William come to love one another--thanks in part to their mutual adoration of Central Park, captured with a sharp and loving eye. Their bond is sealed over an afternoon at the model-boat pond--which, as William points out, is really known as "the Conservatory Water."