“I should have been thinking about God. Or the meaning of life. Or simply grieving the fact that my best friend was now motherless and my own mother without her best friend. Instead, I found myself gazing into the sleek mahogany coffin lined with generous folds of ivory silk, silently critiquing Mrs. Carr’s lipstick, a magenta with blue undertones that subtly clashed with her coral dress, the same one she had worn to Lucy’s wedding nearly five years ago.” — The One & Only
This long-awaited novel from Emily Giffin opens in a church, where our narrator, Shea, and her best friend, Lucy, have gathered with their families and what seems to be the whole town of Walker, Texas to lay Lucy’s mother to rest after a battle with cancer. The women have been friends since childhood, a relationship Lucy dominates. In fact, it seems Lucy dominates everyone she knows — Angel, the hairdresser; her husband; and Shea’s boyfriend, Miller, a trait no doubt derived from her mother.
“Coach Carr was something of a deity in our town,” a man everyone respected and feared in the best kind of way, including and especially Shea. The father of her best friend, and a kind of surrogate for her own father, the thirty-three year old Texan (and football fan extraordinaire) recalls an occasion when the police took her to the Carrs’ as punishment for underage drinking and driving, a fate “worse than spending the night in jail.” He is described as fit, passionate and rugged, someone for whom football is escape. Much like Shea.
Much unlike her best friend and father, Lucy has never understood the allure of the pigskin. “‘No riffraff at the house’,” she declares after the burial, casting this net to include “‘Boosters. Fans. Players, past and present.'” making one exception for “Walker’s only Heisman Trophy winner” Ryan James. (This detail, and that Mrs. Carr loved him are all we learn of Ryan James in the first chapter.) “Friends and close family only.” Though Shea insists the town of Walker is one big family in its own right, Lucy has none of it, expressing grief through anger at her neighbors for expecting access to such a personal, terrible moment.
The chapter concludes as the friends depart, and Lucy demands that Shea ride with her father. He’s stubborn and shouldn’t be alone, and besides “‘he actually likes talking to you.'”
First impressions mean everything.
Much is said about a book’s opening line, but perhaps most telling of all is this first chapter’s last. He actually likes talking to you. Shea and Coach Carr share a bond he and his daughter don’t: football. In fact, he and the whole town share in ways he and Lucy don’t, or can’t. She may not resent Shea over this (yet?), but it’s made clear she is not a fan of the town’s influence on her life and family.
And what of Shea’s parents? Only discussed in fleeting glances, the elder Rigsbys (“long divorced”) and Carrs maintained a lifelong friendship themselves; the former couple appears civil and united “through this ordeal,” Mr. Rigsby’s new wife left behind in Manhattan.
Who is Ryan James? What will become of Shea’s boyfriend Miller? And Lawton Carr — will Walker’s late matriarch see her “Kill two birds with one stone.” marriage prophecy come to light?
Let’s find out together. Read on.