Best Intentions
Emily Listfield
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Buy *Best Intentions* by Emily Listfield online

Best Intentions
Emily Listfield
352 pages
May 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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“Suspicion is the smoke you see everything through that refuses to be lit.”
The salubrious and respectable confines of bourgeois Manhattan are brought dramatically to life in this compelling tale of duplicity and distrust. Lisa Barkley, her journalist husband, Sam, and their two adorable daughters, Claire and Phoebe, live noisy, active lives - fairly typical of a young, upwardly mobile upper-Westside New York family.

Claire and Phoebe attend Weston, an exclusive private school which suits the image Lisa has of her life. Until recently Lisa has prided herself on how busy she is, rising to vice-president of the PR firm she works at, her accomplishments bringing “a certain thrill and a verification” of her status as a professional and a woman. She has a well-ordered, stimulating life, but at some point the excitement has begun to wane, caused mainly by her constant money worries throwing her and Sam into an endless financial freefall with no net beneath.

When Lisa listens to Sam’s voicemail and hears a woman’s voice, sensual intimacy lacing her tone: “I’m going to be late tonight” - the revelation thrusts her into a nightmare of suspicion and distrust and a situation she would never have expected to be in. With nowhere else to turn, to she confesses her suspicions to her best friend, Deidre, the words transforming “whispery suspicion into something concrete” with its own shape and weight.

Deidre, however, has her own problems. Having just turned forty, she has an inveterate dread of an ingrained single life, causing her to fall into a narcotic relationship with fashion photographer Ben Erickson, “his opaque heart" and his little white lies. Then there are her feelings for her old flame, Frank, who has come back to New York to court her. Frank is convinced that he and Deidre were blown off-course but positive they’ve been blessed with the rarest of chances to get back together.

While Deidre keeps parts of herself and her desires tucked away from Lisa, Lisa is drawn to a potential client - suave, sophisticated David Forrester. A financial genius known for his “moral relativity,” David offers Lisa a measure of calm before the storm brews and she must face the truth behind Sam’s infidelities. Meanwhile, the ambitious and martini-swilling Frank decides to treat Lisa like an emissary, eventually enlisting her to help remake his relationship with Deidre.

As the sharp coolness of New York bestows a momentary if false illusion of clarity, an unexpected murder shakes everything up. Lisa’s life suddenly explodes into fragments, the world as she knows it forever altered, her marital dreams shattered as “splatters of grief and fear and frustration are finally let out.”

Far from a facile imitation of chicl lit, Best Intentions is mostly a novel of women, love, and betrayal - and the emotional path of a marriage in very real danger of fracturing. These people are fascinating, though with their competitive narcissism and self-absorbed ways I found it hard to relate to any of them throughout the story. Listfield, however, does get to the heart of what makes her characters tick, all the while revealing Lisa’s darkest secrets, self-doubts, and minute validations and disloyalties of her life as she struggles to rise above the demands of motherhood, family and work.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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