My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Description: When it happens to you, you will be surprised. That thing they say about how you knew all the time, but just weren't facing it? That might be the case, but nevertheless, there you will be.
Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life--revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all.
In "The Harvest Moon," a stay-at-home mom grapples with age, infertility, and an increasingly distant husband. In "Ursa Minor," a former children's television star tries to rebuild his life after being hospitalized for "exhaustion." An elderly woman mourns the loss of her husband and her estranged relationship with her daughter in "The Little One." In "My Olivia," a single mother finds untapped reserves of strength to protect her flamboyant six-year-old son who wishes only to wear dresses and be addressed as Olivia. And in the devastating title story, a betrayed wife chronicles her pain and alienation, leading to an eviscerating denouement.
As the lives of these characters converge and diverge in unexpected ways, Ringwald reveals a startling eye for the universality of loss, love, and the search for connection. An unflinching yet poignant examination of the intricacies of the human heart, "When It Happens to You" is an auspicious literary debut.
My thoughts: I put off reading this book because I made the erroneous assumption that Molly Ringwald is the same girl as the actress in the 80's, still riding her wave of notoriety by trying her hand at writing a novel which inevitably will be bad. She's an actress, after all. Not a writer.
Here is my public apology. I wrongly pigeon holed the author, making the pious and hypocritical assumption that she was one dimensional. Assuming that, unlike me, she hadn't grown and tapped into her different gifts and developed surprising facets in her life. I am particularly guilty because I saw her in one episode of Medium where she played the character of blind woman. All the trappings of Molly Ringwald remained in her physical presence; red hair, pretty smile, big eyes, but as I watched the episode, I forgot Pretty In Pink and saw only a blind woman, plagued with trying to convince Lee that she was, in fact, being watched. Molly who?
It turns out that Molly Ringwald is a master of observation and articulation. She not only translates feelings and characters via acting but also through writing. Although the book is a conglomeration of short stories, the book is essentially telling the same story but at different time periods throughout a year, involving different characters and exploring relationships, the demise of some, the reunification of others, tying together all of the loose ends at the end.
The most prominent character in the book is Greta, the thirty-something year old woman consumed with conceiving another child. Already the mother of one daughter and married to the man she'd been with since she was 18, she had completely identified herself with her roles of homemaker, sacrificing a career to build up her husband's. Although she doesn't frame it as a sacrifice but as a free choice. I liked that. At the end of this story, the reader has put together the clues but Greta is still uncertain for why her husband is crying and apologizing.
The next story is a few months later. Phillip and Greta have been separated since she discovered his infidelities. The stories toggle between the two points of view but interspersed with the introduction of different characters and perspectives of motherhood, parenting, and marriage.
What is exceptional about the book is the way the author expresses in precise articulation the feelings and thoughts of each of them. Halfway through the book is the short story called "When It Happens to You." I wish I could quote it all because it is incredibly perceptive, insightful, and heart wrenching.
The girl who will give him back this illusion of vitality for a short time will not think of your children or your marriage. She will not consider the lovely years that you spent together with him. Why would she? She wasn't there when you both laughed your way through your wedding with a pure and nervous joy. She wasn't there when you both waited for your first child to be born. When he held your hand and told you how the contractions were coming, with the seriousness of a boy. . . She wasn't there when you held him upright at his father's funeral and then at his mother's only weeks later. Or for the vacations, alone at first and then with the children. Or the holidays.
When it happens to you, you will ask him why he would choose to forsake this good, sweet life that you carefully built together for a girl who couldn't begin to understand him. And then you will realize that that is at least partially the point. He doesn't want to be understood. He wants to be misunderstood because in that misunderstanding lies the possibility of reinvention.
You will go to therapy and strive to find your part in it. Your complicity. You will nod when the therapist tells you that if you do the work, you can have the marriage you always dreamed of. But I had the marriage I always dreamed of, you'll tell her. No, she will assure you. You only thought you did. You will try to make sense of this "hall of mirrors" way of looking at your life. Mostly, you will just miss the marriage that you had but didn't have.
When it happens to you, you will wonder if he loved her. He will assure you that he did not, that it wasn't about love. He will tell you that it was about something else entirely. But even in your quietest moments together, he will be unable to specify what that something else was. He will honestly seem as confused as you, even to the point of bewilderment.Very well written book. Highly recommend, particularly to both men and women who have been married for a few years.
*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.