If your first inclination is to discount this book just because a celebrity wrote it: STOP RIGHT THERE. Because 1) the celebrity in question is Molly Ringwald and hel-lo, she’s awesome; and 2) this book is the real deal. When It Happens to You is Ringwald’s first book of fiction, a collection of eight interconnected short stories that revolve around a dissolving marriage. Short stories are tricky territory; there’s not much room to make them work. Yet here Ringwald makes them work in interesting ways, focusing not just on the family that is falling apart but on the handful of outsiders who are somehow linked to the main story.
The heart of the book is about betrayal: a few of the stories are told from the perspective of the main characters, Phillip and Greta Parris. The two married young and built a seemingly happy life together. They have a daughter and Greta is undergoing fertility treatments so they can try to have another child. Then the bombshell of Phillip’s infidelity drops and Greta’s world is shattered. The coming months are a time when big decisions must be made: Stay together for their daughter? Divorce? Forgive?
But some of the best stories in the collection come from outside the Parris family. With interconnected short stories, it’s always fun trying to piece everything together and figure out where everything fits in the overall puzzle. The stories in this collection were no different in this regard, especially since the thread wasn’t always immediately apparent between some of the stories. My favorite story was “My Olivia,” about a woman named Marina whose young son, Oliver, has just made clear that she’s really a girl. Liberal-minded Marina is accepting…to an extent. It’s one of the longer stories in the collection (though not by much, as most are in the 20-30 page range), and I loved how Ringwald was able to give so much of Marina and Olivia’s history and delve into their present-day situation and work it into the larger Greta/Phillip narrative in such a small amount of space.
When It Happens to You is a lovely fiction debut. Ringwald makes intelligent choices as to how far to take each story; a lot happens, but not once does she fall into the territory of cheesy melodrama. It’s a fairly quick read, and the stories are just long enough to feel satisfying but short enough to allow you to dip in and out of at a leisurely pace. It’s a nice little book to bring along on vacation.
When It Happens to You was published in August 2012 by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.