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A Novel

Written by Julie BuxbaumAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Julie Buxbaum



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On Sale: January 29, 2008
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

With perfect pitch for the humor and heartbreak of everyday life, debut author Julie Buxbaum has fashioned a heroine who will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has loved and lost and loved again.

When twenty-nine-year-old Manhattan attorney Emily Haxby ends her happy relationship just as her boyfriend is about to propose, she can’t explain to even her closest friends why she did it. But somewhere beneath her independent exterior, Emily knows her breakup with Andrew has less to do with him and more to do with...her. “It’s like you get pleasure out of breaking your own heart,” her best friend Jess tells her.

As the holidays loom and Emily contemplates whether she made a huge mistake, the rest of her world begins to unravel. She’s assigned to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit where she must defend the very values she detests by a boss who can’t keep his hands to himself… her Grandpa Jack, the person she cares most about in the world, is losing it, while her emotionally distant father has left her to cope alone…and underneath it all, memories of her deceased mother remind her that love doesn’t last forever.

How this brave young woman finally faces the fears that have long haunted her is the great achievement of this marvelous first novel, written with authority, grace, and wisdom.

Excerpt

Chapter One


Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one. He tasted like chicken. Afterward, I felt full but slightly disappointed. I had been craving steak.

I plan to forget this dream. I will block out the grainy texture of moo shu Andrew. The itch of swallowing him dry. I will erase it completely, without lingering echoes or annoying daja vu, despite the possibility that my dream led me inexorably to this moment.

Because I already know that, unlike the dream—this dead end—this one is going to stick. I am living an inevitable memory.

Today, I break up with Andrew in a restaurant that has crayons on the table and peanut shells on the floor. A drunken young woman in the midst of her bachelorette party, wearing little more than a cowboy hat and tassels, attempts to organize a line dance. I realize now that I should have waited for a better backdrop. It looks as if I think our relationship adds up to nothing more than a couple of beers and some satisfying, but fiery, buffalo wings. This is not the effect I was going for.

I had imagined that disentangling would be straightforward and civilized, maybe even a tiny bit romantic. The fantasy breakup in my head played out in pantomime; no explanations, only rueful smiles, a kiss good-bye on the cheek, a farewell wave thrown over a shoulder. The sting of nostalgia and the high of release, a combustible package, maybe, but one we would both understand and appreciate.

Instead, Andrew looks at me strangely, as if I am a foreigner he has just met and he can't place my accent. I refuse to meet his eyes. I quell the overwhelming desire to run outside into the swill of Third Avenue, to drown in the overflow of people spilling out from the bars and onto the street.

Surely, that would be better than feeling Andrew's confusion reverberate off his skin like a bad odor. I lock my legs around the bottom of my bar stool and stare at the bit of barbecue sauce that clings to his upper lip. This helps assuage my guilt. How could I be serious about a man who walks around with food on his face? In all fairness, Andrew is not walking around anywhere. He perches there, stunned.

And I, too, am adorned in condiments. The ketchup on my white tank top makes it look like my heart is leaking.

"This was never going to be a forever, happily-ever-after sort of thing. You knew that," I say, though it is clear from his silence and from the last few days that he did not. I wonder if he wants to hit me. I almost wish he would.

Seems strange now that I didn't realize this moment was coming, that I hadn't started practicing in my head before yesterday. I'm usually good at endings—pride myself on them, in fact—and I always find people disingenuous when they claim that a breakup came out of nowhere. Nothing comes out of nowhere, except for, perhaps, freak accidents. Or cancer. And even those things you should be prepared for.

I guess I could have just let the weekend unfold, followed the original plan with military precision, and woken up tomorrow with Andrew in my bed and his arm thrown across my shoulder. Later, at work, I would have been able to tell some funny Labor Day anecdote around the proverbial water cooler, the weekend always better in rose-colored instant replay. But though I firmly believe that a tree does not fall in the forest until someone later tells an amusing story about it, I realize now that there will be no tidbits to share tomorrow. At least not funny ones. I have made sure of that.

Today, during the last moments of the Labor Day weekend, I find myself sitting across from Andrew, the man with whom I have spent the past two years, attempting to explain why it is we need to stop seeing each other naked. I want to tell him it is merely our ages—I am twenty-nine, Andrew is thirty-one—that are at fault here. We are acting under a collective cultural delusion, the one that demands random connection after the quarter-life mark, a handcuffing to whoever lands by your side during a particular game of musical chairs. This is the only way I can explain how Andrew went so out of bounds yesterday, with his intimations of a ring and permission, with his hints of an impending proposal. But I don't say any of this out loud, of course. The words seem too vague, too much like an excuse, maybe, too much like the truth.

We had never been one of those fantasy-prone couples who presumed a happy ending or named their unborn children on their first date. Actually, our first date was at a restaurant remarkably similar to this one, and rather than talking about the future, or even ourselves, we had a fierce competition over who could eat more hot wings. We left the restaurant with lips so swollen that when he kissed me good night I could barely feel it. Four months later, he admitted rushing the date because the wings gave him diarrhea. It took me two more months to confess that I had let him win.

He didn't take that so well.

Whenever the future did come up, though, we always included convenient "ifs" in our language, deflating whatever followed into something less loaded.

"If we ever have kids, I hope they have your eyes and my toes," I would say, while tracing circles on Andrew's stomach with my fingertips.

"If we ever have kids, I hope they have your intestines. That way, we could enter them in competitive eating contests and retire to Mexico on their winnings," he would say, and gather my hair into a ponytail and then let it slip back through his hands, like the strands were only on loan.

Perhaps the lesson here is to pay attention. There is always a lesson, isn't there? There has to be, because without one, what would be the point? So maybe this time it is to be vigilant, to watch out. Because somehow, sometime yesterday, without my noticing, without my perceiving, our fault line shifted.

The plan was to walk up to Central Park with our friends Daniel and Kate, to jointly celebrate our limited free time by wantonly wasting it. The curtain of Manhattan humidity had been replaced with a whistling breeze, and after a choking August, we were relieved to be balancing between seasons. Since the rest of the city had better places to be over the holiday weekend, we took advantage of having the sidewalks to ourselves. Andrew and I weaved back and forth, elbowing each other in the ribs, sticking out our feet to trip the other, pinching sides in a game of gotcha-last. I was feeling pure pleasure, not dithering happiness. No buzz of anxiety or free fall in my stomach to warn of what was to come.

Daniel and Kate walked in front of us. Her engagement ring, whose presence loomed out of proportion to its size, would occasionally catch the sun and paint shadow shows on the sidewalk. Our closest friends—we could still say "our" yesterday, we were still a "we" then—and somehow, more than that, they were also symbols of how things can be for some people, how effortless commitment can look. Daniel and Kate were the adults leading this brigade, though at a languid pace, since it was clear that we should savor this last bit of summer before the trees shed their leaves to make room for the snow.

After I caught Andrew in a sneaky gotcha-last move—the never-fail distract-and-mislead maneuver—he ended the game by lacing his fingers in mine. We walked that way for a while, hand in hand, until I felt him start to toy with my empty ring finger, wrapping it with the whole of his palm in an infant grip. And though he kept quiet, it was as if he said the words out loud. He was going to ask me to marry him.

His thoughts, I could tell, were wholly methodical—the hows of proposing, not the ifs or the whys. Finding a free day to take the train out to Connecticut to get my father's permission or to Riverdale to ask my Grandpa Jack. Conjuring up the name of my favorite restaurant and his family jeweler. No meditation on whether he knows me well enough to zip together our futures, no concern that he can't decipher the infinite thoughts that run through my inaccessible brain at any given moment. But that's who Andrew is, ultimately; someone not overly bothered by the ifs and the whys.

Before I could wonder if my rising panic was merely the result of an illusion, he pulled me toward a jewelry-shop window, his arm cupped around my back. I imagined the rings winking at me, laughing at my discomfort.

"Do you like anything?" he asked.

"That bracelet is pretty," I said. "Oh, and those earrings are gorgeous. I like how dangly they are. I never wear dangly. And, look, they have a one hundred percent money-back guarantee. I like when you can get your money back."

"How about those rings?"

"Too sparkly. I prefer the dangly earrings."

"Come on, what kinds of cuts do you like? Princess, oval, marquise?" The man had clearly done his homework. This is not the first time he has thought about this, I realized.

Fuck.

"I don't know the difference. It's not my sort of thing," I said, which was true. I thought Marquise was an island in the Caribbean. And then, because I didn't know what else to do, I pointed far into the distance.

"Look!" I said, like a child who has just learned a new word. "A puppy."


The rest of the afternoon unraveled like a well-scripted sitcom, with the four of us playing a silly game of monkey-in-the-middle in the park, jokingly competitive, and tackling one another unnecessarily. I was perhaps the silliest of all, overcompensating for the dread I was feeling, somehow believing that goofiness would stave off the inevitable.

But there was no way out, really. I had made a promise not to work this weekend, even "accidentally" left my BlackBerry behind in the office, something I had never done before in my almost five years as a litigator at Altman, Pryor and Tisch, LLP. I was off my leash, which had seemed like a good idea before the weekend, when I thought I needed a break from the billable hour, not from my life. I hadn't known I would want to dive right back into the pile of papers on my desk, run away to a place that has no room for words like "our" and "we."

But work would have been mere procrastination. I had come to my decision in front of the jewelry store. I was going to break up with Andrew before he knelt down and asked an impossible question. I would shatter our naive and comfortable world like the kid who plays with a gun in an after-school special.

Self-awareness is a slippery thing, though, when you find yourself at odds with a "supposed to" in life. I understand that I am supposed to want to marry Andrew. That some women wait their whole lives to stand before a bended knee or fantasize about a sparkly stone that silently announces to the world, See, someone loves me. Someone picked me. That some women dream of that choreographed first dance with their new husband before the crowd erupts into a vigorous "YMCA."

Or, better yet, that almost all of us want someone to be our very own partner in crime, to drive us home from the airport, to cheer when we succeed, and to hold our hair when we vomit. And if I am honest with you, I do want that, in one form or another.

But getting married? To Andrew? 'Til death do us part? I can't do it. I would be nothing more than a fraud, a pretend grown-up, a con artist playing the role of bride. I don't even want to spend the rest of my life with me. How can Andrew? And how do you explain to someone you love that you can't give yourself to them, because if you did, you're not sure who you'd be giving? That you aren't even sure what your own words are worth? You can't tell someone that, especially someone you love. And so I don't.

Instead, I do the right thing. I lie.

"Well, I guess that's it, then," Andrew says to me now, his voice barely audible over the jukebox. His tone is hard and resigned, without even a hint of pleading. He handles this like a professional. Clinical acceptance.

"I'm sorry."

Andrew just nods, as if he is suddenly sleepy and his head is too heavy a burden to carry.

"I want you to know I care about you a lot," I say, like I am reading from a book on how to break up with someone. I even have the nerve to add "It's not you. It's me."

Andrew lets a strangled laugh escape. I have finally provoked him. He has moved from confusion to sadness and now, finally, to what I am most comfortable with, anger.

"You're fucking right. It is you, Em. Don't you worry. I know that this is all about you." He grabs his jacket and is about to leave. I want to stop him, to prolong this terrible moment before finality. But there is nothing left to say.

"I'm sorry," I whisper, as he throws some bills onto the table. "I really am." This takes the air out of the moment, and the tightness in his shoulders softens at the sound of my words.

"I know," he says, and his eyes bore into mine. Surprisingly, they are not filled with anger or sadness or love, but with something that looks a hell of a lot like pity. Andrew clears his throat, kisses me on the cheek, and walks calmly out of the restaurant.

Within seconds, he gets absorbed into the swell of Third Avenue. And it is me who is left sitting alone, watching the door and chewing on the bones of his leftover hot wings.

I walk the twenty blocks to my apartment, and it helps to clear my head. The air tingles in my nose, another hint that autumn will soon relieve summer. I take Madison Avenue and watch the crowds savoring the last few moments of the long weekend and the season, sitting with shiny cocktails on makeshift street-level patios. I envy them their last taste of freedom before the workweek. For a moment, I consider stopping for a cosmopolitan at a swanky bar; maybe I can pretend to be one of them, in camouflage, and postpone feeling anything for another hour or two.

Instead, I keep going. I focus on the street numbers as I walk; the counting slows my pulsing thoughts. Fourteenth, you did what you had to do. Thirteenth, we were never meant to be. Twelfth, this is my fault. Eleventh, I did this. I find comfort in the rhythm and that I’m solely responsible for how things turned out. I know I let the relationship go too far. I should have said my good-bye months ago, when it would have hurt both of us less, long before I was steered in front of a jewelry-store window. At least, I reason, at the very least, I took back control. Tenth, things are under control. Ninth, you will be fine. Eighth, he would have left anyway, sooner or later. He would have left you anyway.

When I get to my building, Robert, my doorman, ushers me inside. He is in his early seventies, with a comically white head of hair and matching beard. He looks like a benevolent God or Santa Claus and has the same tendency to meddle. Robert’s constant presence, even his rapid-fire questions, soothes the tenants of the building, which is filled with mostly studios; we know that someone will be there when we get home, that someone will ask how our day was, that someone will notice if we don’t come back at all.

“Where’s your other half tonight?” he asks.

“Staying at his place.” He smiles at me and steps out of the way so I can get into the empty elevator. “Have a good night.”

“Good night, Emily.”

From now on, my day will end right here. Right at the front door. Robert’s is the last voice I will hear most evenings. His is the last face I will see.


From the Hardcover edition.
Julie Buxbaum|Author Q&A

About Julie Buxbaum

Julie Buxbaum - The Opposite of Love

Photo © Indy Flore

Julie Buxbaum is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School. The author of The Opposite of Love, she currently lives in London.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Julie Buxbaum


 Random House Reader’s Circle: Before writing The Opposite of Love, you were a lawyer. How much of Emily’s experience at the law firm is based on your own? 

Julie Buxbaum:
Though I worked at a much gentler firm than Emily’s, the mundane details of her working life were definitely borrowed from my time as a lawyer and from my friends’ experiences–the long hours, the tedium, the windowless rooms full of thousands of documents waiting to be read, page-by-page. The bathroom as a respite. Worse, getting paged in a stall. But– and I probably get asked this question more than any other–I never encountered anyone like Carl, nor had to sleep in a horrible motel bathtub in Arkansas. (I am not sure why, but this fact always seems to disappoint readers.) Unfortunately, I have heard quite a few shocking sexual harassment stories from lawyer friends, though, so I do think it’s fair to say that what happened to Emily happens to young women in law firms a lot more often than people would like to think. 

RHRC: What made you decide to become a writer, and how does it compare to your previous life as a lawyer? 


JB: I actually became a writer as a result of a New Year’s resolution, probably the only resolution I’ve ever managed to keep. 

After practicing law for a few years, I suddenly realized that I was sleepwalking through my life. My days were spent daydreaming about the weekends, and come the weekend, I’d be struck with the Sunday night blues–that creeping dread of Monday morning that anyone who has had a job they disliked knows all too well. I had always wanted to write a novel, and the time finally felt right to take the plunge. After making my vow on New Year’s Eve, I quit my job and sat down the very next day to start what ultimately became The Opposite of Love. 

As for how my life has changed since becoming a writer, I have not worn a business suit in three years; instead, I now spend an inordinate amount of time in my pajamas. Rather than obsessively citing case law, I now get to make stuff up for a living. (I guess some lawyers make stuff up too, but it’s generally not a good idea.) Better yet, I actually look forward to Monday mornings these days. A lot of the time, writing doesn’t feel like “work,” or at least not what I’ve always assumed “work” was supposed to feel like. So I guess the simplest way of describing the difference is to say that being a writer nourishes me in a way that being a lawyer never did. 

RHRC: What sparked the idea for The Opposite of Love? 

JB:
Basically, I started with the thematic question of what happens when you delay grief. How does the corrosive power of an early traumatic loss play out on a day-to-day basis years after the fact? Does it change who we are as people? From there, I began to picture Emily, someone who has spent more than a decade running from the loss of her mother. Once I got to know her, to fully understand who Emily was as a person, I saw how the accumulation of choices she made along the way all stemmed from that central question about grief–her willingness to put up with a tedious job, for example, or the way she deals with Andrew or her father. Only then did she become a character with a story to tell. 

RHRC: What’s your process like? 

JB:
I don’t have much of a process. I’m always impressed by writers who tack note cards to a bulletin board or who create complicated Excel spreadsheets. For me, “process” is just a fancy word for “routine.” I get up in the morning, make coffee, sit at my desk, waste too much time online, put on classical music (my way of signaling to myself that the workday has officially started), take a few minutes to review and edit yesterday’s pages, and then I start writing. A lot of time, maybe even most of the time, the writing part is torturous. But every once in a while, I’ll nail a sentence, or a paragraph, or figure out a plot point that hasn’t been working for me, and those moments bring such a rush that I forget about everything else. And that’s when I know I’m doing my job–when I so lose myself that I don’t notice time slipping by in the real world, and forget all of the silly details that normally rule my brain. (Did I pay my credit card bill? Is there milk in the fridge? When was the last time I shaved my legs?) It’s strange and wonderful feeling–like almost forgetting to exist for a little while. 

RHRC: All of your characters are so engaging and relatable, and they each have such distinct personalities. Do you have a favorite? 

JB:
I am one of those embarrassing writers who talks about my characters as if they are real people living in an alternate universe somewhere. And I have to confess that some small part of me might actually believe this. So after spending so much of my time with Emily, I feel almost guilty admitting that she is not my favorite. But–despite the fact that I do love her as a character, and no doubt know her the best–she’s not. 

Ruth wins that one, perhaps in part because she is still a mystery to me, and in part because I would love to have someone like that in my life. Her characterization in the book is necessarily limited by Emily’s knowledge, and so we don’t get to see a complete portrait of her as person–we don’t know, for example, what her kids think of her, what sort of wife she was, what it was like to work for her when she was a judge. Before I sat down to write about Ruth, I always believed I had a full and complete picture of who she was in my head, but somehow she kept surprising me on the page. Come to think of it, maybe she’s my favorite because she reinforces that illusion that she does exist somewhere else, somewhere just beyond my control. 

RHRC: Your descriptions of New York City are utterly vivid and familiar. Did you intend for the city itself to play such a large role in the book? How much has living in New York influenced you and your writing? 

JB: I think it’s practically impossible to set a book in New York without the city becoming an essential character. It has an amazing amount of adaptability. Beyond even neighborhood (setting a book in Harlem is completely different from setting a book in the East Village, for example), New York forces you to deal with certain questions of city life: How do your characters react to living in a place so full of people? Does it give them a feeling of power, or are they sapped by its opposite, insignificance? In Emily’s case, I used the city almost as a mirror for her emotional state–much like her choice of a job, living in New York for Emily is about succumbing to numbness. To that end, much of my description of the city intentionally revolves around sound and its peculiar brand of white noise. And I think Emily’s New York is a lonely one; a place where she can indulge in too much thinking about her own anonymity, a place where she turns to her doorman for solace. 

For me, I found that living in New York created this bizarre situation where I would see someone every single day–the lady with the yappy dog in my building, the guy who commuted on the 6 train at the same time, the woman at Starbucks who made my coffee–and still pretend like I’d never seen them before in my life. Weirder still, I was supposed to pretend that we were all strangers; whenever I did say hello, I always felt like I was breaking some sort of tacit New York pact. 

In the book, Marge noticing Emily (or not noticing her, as the case may be) matters more to her than it should. But those circumstances–being strangers and not strangers at once–and Emily’s neurosis around it too, is quintessential New York to me. 

RHRC: Some of the most touching scenes are those with Emily’s grandfather, Jack. What was your inspiration for that particular storyline? Did you have that kind of relationship with your own grandparents? 

JB:
Since so much of Emily’s life is shaped by the loss of her mother, I wanted to contrast that experience with a different kind of loss, a “good death,” in a way. When Grandpa Jack dies, Emily is devastated but realizes his passing is in the natural order of things. (She’s also in a place in her life where she finally has the ability to cope with it. To put it crudely, she’s grown up.) But at the start, before I knew where the novel was going, I created Grandpa Jack because I felt Emily needed at least one parental figure in her life. She had already been robbed of too much. I was incredibly close to my grandparents, both of whom had a huge impact on who I am today. My grandmother was a shortstory writer and poet in the thirties–I keep a scrapbook of her work on my desk–and was the reason I fell in love with reading when I was a kid. It was important to me to create older characters who weren’t condescended to or reduced to a “cute” archetype. I wanted to create people who had wisdom and experience, yes, but who also felt like real people in the real world. 

RHRC: In your mind, was there always going to be a happy ending with Emily and Andrew? Or did this evolve naturally while you were writing? 

JB:
I always hoped there would be a happy ending with Emily and Andrew (or I guess depending on how you look at it, a happy rebeginning), but I was only going to let that happen if Emily worked for it. And she does! I sometimes encounter readers who are surprised that Andrew took her back, but I never felt that way. In my mind, at least, Andrew wasn’t the type of character to let his pride trump love. (I find it interesting to wonder, though, whether the question of one taking the other back would arise at all had the genders of the characters been switched.) I think it’s also worth nothing that though Emily grows up a lot over the course of the book, I don’t think she is fully restored at the end of the novel. She has as happy an ending as she can manage, but I don’t think she has stopped feeling the repercussions of her loss. To be honest, I am not sure one ever does. 

RHRC: What are some of your favorite books, and whose work has inspired you? 

JB:
This question always makes me anxious, and gives me the same feeling I used to have as a kid when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up: You mean I have to choose? But what if some days I want to be a firewoman and others an astronaut? I always make sure to have a bunch of very different books around for exactly this reason, because it turns out I haven’t changed much: Some days I do want to be a firewoman and some days I want to spacewalk. Often, I love to curl up with Anna Quindlen or Elizabeth Berg. Recently, I went on a Martin Amis kick, followed by a re-diving into Jane Austen. I always love Milan Kundera (lately I’ve been digging his nonfiction work on the novel form). And when I feel like a big, fulfilling read–a book that is guaranteed to inspire me and make me fall in love with the written word all over again–I turn to two very different and extraordinary writers: Richard Powers and Marilynne Robinson. That being said, I do have an all-time favorite book that I have loved since childhood: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I revisited the classic many, many times in the past year since it plays a central role in my next novel. And even on the hundredth reading, it still holds up.  


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“In the character of Emily, Julie Buxbaum has created the quintessential motherless daughter: a woman who longs for the comfort of intimacy, yet fears its permanence. The Opposite of Love is a brilliant examination of loss, romance, and the jagged, imperfect, utterly realistic way we fall and stay in love. A stunning debut.”—Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters

"You’ll want to keep reading all night.”—Library Journal, Starred Review

“A witty, touching debut novel rich with emotional truths. Women everywhere will relate to Julie Buxbaum's thoughtful, young heroine and her journey of loss and love.”—Emily Giffin, author of Love the One You’re With

“Gripping, wise and extremely refreshing. I loved it.”—Marian Keyes, author of Sushi for Beginners and Angels

"Buxbaum makes an appealing debut with this tale of...[a] single gal-in-the-city [who] finds her white-knuckle hold on life and love slowly slipping."—Publishers Weekly
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

Julie Buxbaum’s debut novel The Opposite of Love introduces an unforgettable, altogether relatable heroine. Twenty-nine year-old Emily Haxby’s wise, wry, genuine voice will linger far past the last page, striking a chord with anyone who has ever loved and lost and loved again.

With perfect pitch for the humor and hurdles of life, The Opposite of Love is the story of Emily’s determination to find love—and to trust it—and to face the fear of figuring out who she is and how she feels about the world that surrounds her. As Emily decides to take control of her life, her heartbreaks and successes, her mistakes and her triumphs will come to rest in your heart.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of The Opposite of Love. We hope they will enrich your experience of this remarkable novel.

Discussion Guides

1. What was your perception of the letter at the beginning of the novel? Did this future glimpse of Emily in the years after the story takes place influence your reading experience, or how you related to the character, as her past unfolded? Did knowing the outcome affect your judgment of her actions?

2. What is Jess referring to when she tells Emily, “It’s like you get pleasure out of breaking your own heart?” (page 46) Is she referring only to the breakup with Andrew? What else in Emily’s past or present could this apply to?

3. “This is who I am: someone who simultaneously longs for and fears the commitment of remembering.” (page 3) How is memory a commitment? Do memories make you the person you are? Are they something you can regulate?

4. Why doesn’t Emily report Carl’s lewd inappropriateness in the Arkansas hotel room, or any of his other advances? What would you have done if put in Emily’s situation? Do you think the portrayal of Emily’s experience working in a law firm is realistic—that sexual harassment cases like this still exist? And, if so, do they often go unreported?

5. Did you expect Andrew to take Emily back? Do you think she deserves him? Is he too perfect, or does he have chinks in his armor?

6. For part of her story, Emily is a workaholic, commitment-phobic, tough lawyer who compartmentalizes her emotions. Is that a description that is often applied to young women today, or it more associated with male behavior? Is it more unusual to see a woman behave this way than a man?

7. How do the women in Emily’s life—Jess, Kate, Ruth, Dr. Lerner, Carisse, Miranda Washington, even Marge, the security guard—affect Emily over the course of the novel? What does each unique woman bring to her? In which ways do they ultimately help her, knowingly or unknowingly? Do you think they can be seen as maternal, in their own ways?

8. The death of Emily’s mother was an extremely profound event in Emily’s childhood and greatly influenced her personality as an adult. How did she process her grief at that time, and what were the lasting effects? Did you empathize with her father and the distance he created in their relationship, or do you find fault with his actions?

9. What was your impression of the men in this novel—from Mason to Carl, Andrew to Grandpa Jack—did they break or perpetuate stereotypes? If so, how?

10. Do you share Emily’s belief that the only unconditional love is from a parent to a child? Reflecting on her mother’s death, Emily surmised that she would have to spend the rest of her life earning someone else’s love. Do you think love is often idealized as unwavering and a given, yet the reality is it that it cannot be taken for granted and involves effort to cultivate?

11. How effective are the e-mail notes throughout the book? Have e-mails become our own form of letter writing? Do they hold the same value as a handwritten note? Do you think different generations of readers would give the same answer to this question? Compare Ruth’s e-mail writing style with Emily or Andrew’s.

12. Describe some of the small acts of kindness different characters bestow upon Emily. Are they usually given by family members, acquaintances, strangers?

13. What role does absence play in the novel? For instance, Emily is disappointed when Robert, her doorman, isn’t there when she comes home on Christmas Eve—she misses him, and his kindness, which she usually takes for granted. How could this concept be applied to her relationship with Grandpa Jack, her parents, or even to Andrew?

14. Is Emily mature or immature for her age? Does your opinion change as the novel progresses? How do you define maturity? Has your definition evolved as you yourself have gotten older?

15. Emily’s concept of “the opposite of love” shifts over the course of the book. What is your concept of love’s “opposite?” Could it be defined as hate, indifference, apathy, simply the absence of love, or something else entirely?


  • The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum
  • June 09, 2009
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • $15.00
  • 9780385341233

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