2012 REVIEWS: GENERAL #9

WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU
Author: Molly Ringwald
Simon & Schuster RRP $27
Review: Monique Mulligan

When it Happens to YouActress Molly Ringwald has proven she has what it takes as a writer in her debut novel, When it Happens to You. Tagged “A novel in stories”, the book is a collection of short stories in which all the characters are connected somehow (although sometimes you have to wait to see the link). The stories are unified around themes of loss, betrayal and love and hinges on one main event – the breakdown of Greta and Phillip’s marriage following his infidelity – and the premise that, “you never really know how something feels until it happens to you”.

How do you know what infertility, infidelity, betrayal, parenting, love found and lost feels like unless you’ve experienced it? Ringwald explores how situations take people by surprise, often changing life as they know it, moving them from “This happened to so-and-so” and “If it happened to me, I would…” territory into “This happened to me“. None of the characters in this book are immune from change – all are forced to re-evaluate life and to feel things they did not expect.

Why did Ringwald write this particular book? It’s as if she is saying, “You know me as an actress, and through the characters I’ve played, but you don’t know me, you don’t know my story”. While this is not her story as such, there’s a strong message – don’t assume you know what someone is going through until you’ve been through it yourself. Good point, and one well made sans moralising. However, while well-enough written, none of the stories are particularly original – we’ve heard them all before one way or another, whether in fiction or reality. Of all the stories, “My Olivia” is the stand-out – it’s a refreshing change from the others because it deals with a far more unusual situation: what do you do when your young son believes he is a girl? I found this story of conflict and heartbreak the most compelling and bittersweet of all. The first-person story entitled “When it happens to you” is also intimate and heartfelt – a verbal outpouring of emotion on behalf of a character we later learn is Greta; I liked this better than the third-person stories about Greta because it showed me more about how she felt rather than her reactions.

It’s a little slow at times and a bit heavy in subject matter (not for light summer reading), but overall, a good effort. I’m looking forward to reading more of Ringwald’s work.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.


WIFE 22
Author: Melanie Gideon
Harper Collins RRP $27.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 
Wife 22A funny and contemporary novel, Wife 22 is a light and refreshing read that will make readers think about where the lines are and when they are being crossed.Alice Buckle is reaching the “tipping point” in her life – she is approaching her 20th wedding anniversary and the age her mother was when she died. With things feeling more than a little stale in the marriage department, the time is ripe for some soul searching – all she needs is a prompt. So when an email arrives asking her to participate (anonymously, of course) in a study on Marriage in the 21st Century she decides to give it a go. She has no idea how profoundly that decision will change her life.

Researcher 101 sends Alice (Wife 22) questions via email, which she answers with honesty and surprising recall. It’s as if she is awakened from a long, deep sleep – besides, it′s been years since anybody has asked her such intimate questions and listened so closely to what she thinks, feels, hopes, fears and dreams. Despite herself, Alice finds that confession is a powerful aphrodisiac…but it’s safe, right? Wife 22 and Researcher 101 only communicate online.

The novel is written with a combination of emails, Tweets, Facebook status updates, texts and Google searches. It fits in with today’s fast-paced, immediate, “need to know” (or share) world by using social media as a hook. Since social media is becoming increasingly popular, it’s an effective enough device – at times it seems there is an element of parody about the overuse of social media or the unfortunate tendency people have towards “Vaguebooking” and boring status updates. My only thought is that it will date the book. Another interesting device was the use of the questionnaire answers without the corresponding questions. Some readers will find this disjointed, maybe even annoying – especially when they realise that the questions are listed as an appendix at the end of the book. I didn’t mind this – I used my imagination to figure out the questions and later, asked my husband some of them. That led to some interesting conversations post-novel.

There is a twist to the tale – I did see it coming a mile off about a quarter of the way through – and that itself promotes some interesting debate about “gray areas” and crossing the line. I don’t want to spoil things here, so I won’t share some of the questions the twist raised. Let’s just say I’m not sure this is a good thing to try at home. I did find Alice’s tendency to “spill all” about her marriage surprising – she really wasn’t very guarded at all, but maybe the questions sparked a torrent of information, a rushing need to get out everything buried inside. I can understand it though – sometimes when you think someone gets you, really hears you, then you want to tell all.

I was uncomfortable with the gray areas in this novel and I don’t really like the easiness with which movies and books turn similar moments into something almost witty/charming a la romantic comedy. It trivialises them. However, putting that aside, I enjoyed the book for what it was – an insight into how any marriage can become routine and sometimes couples need to take a good, hard look at where they’re going. And whether they’re going there together. Life does have a habit of getting in the way and technology makes interruptions and distractions so much more immediate.

Available from good bookstores and Harper Collins.