Most people probably think of The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles when Molly Ringwald’s name is mentioned. I am not most people. My strongest association with Molly’s name is a certain this-is-what-happens-to-your-body-during-puberty movie I saw in my elementary school cafeteria in 1985 with all of the other 4th grade girls. I remember being somewhat embarrassed for Ms. Molly as she informed us about body hair and menarche. It seemed so far removed from the somewhat sanitized world of Hollywood, where puberty only happens to advance the plot as an ugly duckling discovers her hidden swan.
Molly’s new book, When It Happens to You, attempts to be as raw and messy as real life off the silver screen. The story is told through short tales that weave together moments to paint a bigger picture of love, loss, and betrayal. Greta and Phillip’s troubled marriage is the centerpiece. Greta discovers that her daughter’s violin teacher has also been playing Phillip’s strings. The various tales speak of their separation and tenuous relationships with others as they journey through self discovery. Many of these relationships speak of real life. They are temporary and undefinable. They grasp at one another not out of true love but out of loneliness and a search for acceptance and companionship. They highlight the fact that no life occupies a bubble; decisions and connections ripple outward ensnaring others as well as ourselves.
There are lessons of acceptance in Marina’s story of loving her crossdressing son and warnings of what happens when we fight reality from the widow Betty. We learn from Phillip that happiness is not as simple as a young lover and we realize that betraying yourself is worse than being betrayed by another.
I only wish this book was not afraid to reveal the depth of anger and loss that accompanies the discovery of a betrayal. You see, it happened to me. I know the feeling of the tremors that shake your body and soul when you discover the deceptions. I remember the rage so powerful I was afraid it would tear me asunder. I recall the muscles torn from bone as the sobs wracked my frame. Greta speaks of this pain in a removed fashion. She speaks of it, yet does not seem to experience it.
I guess betrayal is like puberty in that we tend to sanitize it when we talk about it. We talk in platitudes and metaphors, tiptoeing around its ugly realities as though we can deny its existence and hold it at bay. We like to think that we could be like Greta, rational and collected. But, in reality, when it happens to you, the truth is much uglier than fiction can ever be.
Read about when it happened to me in Lessons From the End of a Marriage.
- Molly Ringwald explores betrayal in first novel (vcstar.com)
- Book Notes – Molly Ringwald “When It Happens to You” (largeheartedboy.com)
- Molly Ringwald publishes novel on troubled marriages and betrayal (dailymail.co.uk)
- Book Review: When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald (literallyjen.com)