Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review: "When It Happens to You" by Molly Ringwald

The literary world is literally jam-packed with books "authored" by celebrities—actors, directors, musicians, socialites, even those famous for essentially doing nothing. Clearly, many of these celebrity so-called authors are able to sell their books to publishers because of their name only, because most of their books are poorly written. But for me, there have been some celebrity surprises over the years, including Steve Martin and Steve Earle.

After reading When It Happens to You, I can unequivocally say that Molly Ringwald belongs on the short list of extremely talented celebrity authors. While I'll admit I chose to read this book partially because of the good reviews it has been receiving and partially because I'm obsessed with the 80s, especially all things Brat Pack, Ringwald's story-telling ability was apparent to me almost immediately, and I found myself quickly drawn into the book. (I'm not in the slightest bit embarrassed to admit one of the next books I plan to read is Andrew McCarthy's new book. Don't judge.)

When It Happens to You is called "a novel in stories," and each story in the book is linked, with one character, Greta, at the epicenter. When the book begins, Greta and her husband, Phillip, are struggling with fertility issues and the effects the desire to have another baby are having on their relationship. Subsequent stories, which focus on Greta and Phillip, as well as peripheral characters whose lives interact with them, touch on the drama—and trauma—of relationships. I really felt Ringwald had a deft touch in creating her characters, and their dialogue seemed authentic, not artificial.

Each of the stories is long enough to give you a sense of what is happening, but not all of them end neatly, much like life itself. In "My Olivia," the mother of one of Greta and Phillip's daughter's classmates struggles with how much she should enable the wishes of her flamboyant, six-year-old son to be treated and dressed as a girl. "The Little One" features Greta's elderly next door neighbor, as she deals with life without her husband and her estranged relationship with her daughter, as well as the fickle, quixotic visits from Greta and Phillip's young daughter, Charlotte. In "Ursa Minor," an actor who had gained fame from appearing on a children's television show (until being hospitalized for "exhaustion") ponders his waning career as well as his twin sister's relationship with her French boyfriend. But the title story packs the strongest punch, as it focuses on how a woman processes her husband's infidelity.

I've said before that the mark of a good story is one in which I wonder what happened to the characters after it ended. And there were a number of stories in this book that left me wanting more. I hope this is the start of a long writing career for Molly Ringwald, because she has the talent and the creativity to succeed. Her use of language and her ability to evoke emotions through her story-telling was masterful in a number of places.

This is definitely a must read.

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