Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Review: Happens Every Day, by Isabel Gillies

Could it be...that the Bookkitten has actually written a book review for the first time in months? Yes, it is true--and I am soooo happy to be finally writing a review!

We're getting back into the book reading groove with this selection--which I read while I was on vacation in February:

I had originally picked up this book back in April 2009, during a random trip to Starbucks. This was one of the coffee chain's monthly book selections, which they put right next to the register. The cover itself looked appealing enough for me to pick up a copy. As I waited for my latte, I skimmed the summary on the left flap of the dust jacket:

Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life--a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons.

When Josiah took a teaching job at a Midwestern college, Isab el and their sons moved with him from New York City to Ohio, where Isabel taught acting, threw herself into the college community, and delighted in the less-scheduled lives of toddlers raised away from the city. But within a few months, the marriage was over. The life Isabel had made crumbled. "Happens every day," said a friend.

There are many, many stories out there about this exact plot. Woman thinks she has the ideal marriage to a smart, handsome man, and has the house with the white picket fence, the dog, the mini van, and the 2.5 children. And then, suddenly, it all goes wrong. It's a story we've all heard before. However, I was intrigued because this was a true story. Additionally, Ms. Gillies is an actress (she played Detective Stabler's wife on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), and I wondered how much of her dramatic training would lend itself to the storytelling.

It takes awhile for the memoir to build up to the climax. She writes, in vivid detail, about meeting Josiah one summer in Maine, where their families vacationed. She was instantly attracted to the scholar, who eventually earned a Ph.D. in poetry. Josiah's ultimate goal was to obtain a full-time professorship, teaching poetry.

That opportunity arrived when Josiah accepted a position at Oberlin College in Ohio. Isabel threw herself into her new life, and eventually became an adjunct drama professor. They purchased an old house near campus, and everything seemed wonderful.

But soon, Isabel suspected that her husband was cheating. There were the late nights in the office, and the deepening friendship with a female Oberlin colleague. The fights between Isabel and Josiah increased. Isabel wanted to save the marriage, but Josiah kept telling her it was beyond repair. She had very mixed emotions: On one hand, she knew she had to leave, but on the other hand, didn't want to give up the life she had.

Happens Every Day is a no-holds-barred look at a deteriorating relationship. Isabel Gillies is raw, honest, and unapologetic towards her now ex-husband. The further I read this book, the more I thought of Josiah as an ungrateful, self-centered man who really didn't care that he was abandoning two children. I was especially affected by the descriptions of "keeping up appearances": giving friends and family the perception that everything was normal, and there was a happy family life, without providing any detail of the tension that lied within.

So how was this book different from other tales of marriages ending? Well, unlike the movies, Happens Every Day does wrap up its plot in a great big bow, with all of the plotlines neatly tied up. It's like having a conversation with someone who is going through a similar breakup, and just needs to vent, in order to get all of the emotions out. It's like being witness to a therapy session, and you're the therapist, listening to it all.

This is one of those books that begins where you read it in one fell swoop, but then, you have to put it down for awhile before you pick it up again. That is not because of lagging storytelling; rather, you have to sit back and process all of the emotions that Ms. Gillies has laid out on the page. It's as if you have to get over being angry at certain parties (namely Josiah) before you can continue.

There are no wasted emotions in this story; Ms. Gillies makes no attempt to try and cover up any biases towards her husband and his mistress. She is very honest, which is what makes this book such intriguing reading.

While this book is painful to read at times, Happens Every Day is hardly a woe-is-me type of tale. Not once did I feel any pity toward Ms. Gillies, but rather, admiration for her strength and determination. She does not, at any point, make herself out to be a victim, which is probably the biggest strength of the book.

And that's the main thing that makes Happens Every Day different than the typical "perfect marriage suddenly ends" story: The woman doesn't have any self pity, and doesn't make anyone else feel sorry for her.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like n interesting read. I was just telling my husband I need to get back into reading. But I'll be doing it the old fashoned way, reading the actual book. I don't think i"m ready for a Kindle yet.

Anonymous said...

oooh, this sounds good. Thanks for the review, it's going on my "to be read" list now :-)

Jenners said...

Wow! A book review! It has been ages!! Lovely to see it ... and you write them so well .. I hope you'll do more! : )