Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies

I was wholly in love with my life: two healthy children, a brilliant, tall (my father is tall and my mother when describing someone she approves of mentions if he or she is tall) professor husband who was carefully placing the evidence of our happy family all over the bathroom walls so everyone could see. When I came back, there in the main upstairs bathroom, was a love letter to our family, and to me. Frame after frame of generations of us, our people, and the little ones we made. It was security and peace, and everything I had always wanted.

Josiah left me and the boys a month later for a new member of the faculty. A female professor in his department hired to teach eighteenth-century English literature.

I read a review of this book in a magazine a few months ago and promptly put myself on the waiting list for it at the library, because it sounded like just the sort of book I like to read every once in a while, a book whose story is sad and unique but with themes that are universal enough that you can kind of insert yourself into the story and just cry it out. Actually, this is the same reason I read Jodie Picoult books and watch Grey's Anatomy. Anyway, fast-forward a few months to when I actually get to pick up and read the book, which by now has gotten more press and is being sold in Starbucks across the US. I get the book (in the midst of LSAT studying, when I really shouldn't be reading anything not written by Princeton Review or Kaplan) and read it cover to cover in 36 hours. It's gripping.

Isabel is an actress, a real person who's been on a few tiny movies and TV shows. She writes that she's never done a book before but that people tell her she writes good emails so she decides to write a memoir of the breakup of her "perfect" marriage. The book starts with Josiah and Isabel's love story: meet at a wedding, love at first sight, marriage, 2 sons and living in small-town Ohio within five years. Josiah is a poetry professor. Isabel drops hints about his attitudes towards marriage and her and their family even as she is describing the genesis of their relationship. Josiah left his first wife while she was pregnant. Josiah tends to brood. Josiah fights dirty, throwing searingly cruel comments at his wife. Isabel, by contrast, seems sunnier. She's not above admitting her own faults - contributing to the demise of her marriage by harping on her husband for instance. But the reader gets the idea that these are two very different and incompatible people who maybe shouldn't have been together to begin with.

As Josiah becomes infatuated with the other woman, Sylvia, and finally tells Isabel he is leaving her, Isabel becomes desperate to save her marriage. This is the saddest part of the book, as a formerly confident woman essentially grovels to her husband, begging him over and over not to leave her. And yet, you completely understand why. Isabel writes her story in such a way that you feel for her - not pity or scorn or "she's better off without him." This book does a great job of making you, the reader, forget for moments at a time that you are not the one in the failing marriage, desperate and scared and so, so sad.

Again, I seem to use this disclaimer a lot: probably more of a chick book. I'll try to work in some more universal reading material soon.

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