When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald (pub date 8/14/12)
Molly Ringwald was one of the ticketed authors at this year’s BEA, and I was one of the lucky ones who got to meet her and pick up a copy of her new book. The line of fans waiting to meet her was certainly booming; I couldn’t believe I even got a ticket! But though I have long admired Molly’s film career, the little voice in the back of my mind was wondering if she could write a novel. In 2010 she wrote the nonfiction book Getting the Pretty Back, so obviously she can write. But writing fiction is, as one of my professors loves to say, “a completely different animal.”
So can Molly Ringwald write fiction? Yes, yes, and more yes! I was immediately sucked into this story, and was drawn to the nuanced and realistic characters.
When It Happens to You is a novel written in the format of connected short stories. Each story is told from the perspective of a different character, but they all revolve around a central plot. The book tells the story of Greta and Phillip, a couple whose marriage is falling apart. As the stories progress, all the subtleties of their twenty-year relationship are revealed. Then we see how their marital troubles have rippled the pond around them: how they affect their friends, family and their six-year-old daughter Charlotte.
Some stories focus very little on Greta and Phillip, but still manage to circle back to the main plot. For example, the story “Olivia” is about a friend of Phillip’s who is struggling to raise a transgendered child. And “The Little One” is about an elderly woman whose unlikely kinship with Charlotte helps her rekindle her relationship with her estranged daughter.
The stories in When It Happens to You are good on their own, quite but beautiful when bound together in this collection. What I enjoyed most about this book were the characters. Ringwald’s characters are dynamic and life-like, and her stories are touching and relatable. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, and would love to read another novel by Molly Ringwald if she ever writes one!
The World Without You by Joshua Henkin (pub date 6/19/12)
A moving story about a dysfunctional family and the good that can come out of a terrible tragedy.
The Frankel family have gathered once again at their summer home for the Fourth of July. Three generations under the same roof. But they’re not there to have a cookout or watch fireworks. Instead they’ve come to mark the one-year anniversary of Leo’s death. Leo, the baby of the four Frankel siblings, was a journalist who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq, leaving behind a young widow and a two-year-old son. Now a year later, the family are gathered from far and wide for a memorial service and to mark the Jewish tradition of the unveiling of the gravestone.
Though the story is about a family memorial, its main focus is not on the person who died, but on the people who have to go on living without him. Each member of the Frankel family has his or her own secret or grievance. Noelle is a former party girl who reinvented herself as an Orthodox Jew and moved to Israel. She came back to the US with her husband and four sons to pay respect to Leo’s memory, but she finds that her marital issues have followed her all the way from back home. Lily still carries bitterness toward the other members of her family, and is quick to start an argument with her sisters rather than deal with the task at hand. Clarissa is consumed with trying to have a baby in her late 30s, even though she never wanted children before now. And their parents Marilyn and David are trying to face the truth that their 40-year marriage may not survive Leo’s death much longer. Meanwhile, Thisbe, Leo’s widow, has also arrived for the memorial, though she feels more and more like a stranger in the family.
The characterization is what really makes this book enjoyable. Though this is not a long book, Henkin spends a lot of time with each character, letting us know their personal histories, wants and fears, and letting us know how each one of them was affected by Leo’s death. Each character feels dynamic and real, and though Leo is not a character in the story, his presence is always felt throughout the narrative. Soon, I also came to feel as if I had known Leo.
Whatever your feelings about the war in Iraq, The World Without You is a bittersweet story about the families affected by war. It’s about the pain of acceptance and moving on, and the joy in finding friends and family to cling to in sad times. A great book for anyone who’s looking for a dramatic story with well-formed characters.