Emily and Einstein is a 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, and Linda Francis Lee uses these incongruities, including a paranormal flourish, to deepen her story’s emotional punch.
The titular Emily is a book editor, happily married to her husband Sandy—until he dies, and she finds out that he was a serial cheater whose family immediately starts eviction proceedings against her. She’s furious, heartbroken, and humiliated.
But Emily and Einstein is not a simple novel about marital betrayal. Emily was stubbornly blind to the reality of her marriage: as she says, she “was never good at sensing trouble.” She deliberately didn’t see her marriage, her husband, her life: she loved a man who didn’t exist. She created a phantom husband, a paranormal partner.
And here’s where the fascinating magic aspect of the novel comes in: Lee gives Emily’s scruffy little rescue dog the soul of a man: to be exactly, Sandy’s soul. Sandy-as-Einstein is a scruffy, sarcastic, and funny dog who finds it hard to come to terms with the fact he was a rabid little mutt as a human. And Emily has her own learning to do: she needs to understand that she is an expert at avoiding truths that stare her right in the face. Any of us who have avoided a powerful, painful truth know the utter conviction of denial. But this plot really hinges on one question: can Emily recognize Sandy-as-Einstein—a truly impossible truth? Lee turns what could be a simple redemptive tale, in which Emily gets over her faithless former husband and meets a lovely guy named Max, into a real challenge: can Emily accept a truth that her commonsense tells her cannot be true?
I loved the complexity of Emily and Einstein: the way that a touch of magic and humor makes deep sorrow and painful secrets more visible. With a nod to Pythagorus, Lee will have you believing in miracles, second chances, and a dog with the soul of a man.
You might even find yourself eyeing the family pet in a new light!
This review first appeared on the B&N Review website in 2011.