Author: Molly Ringwald
I notice that the reviews for When It Happens to You have been temperate. It is true, some of the stories sizzle, and some do not. What amazes me is what Ringwald does with a very difficult task: short stories are an art form. To take short stories and wend them into a novel is extremely ambitious, and yet Ringwald, always a trooper, sets her aim very high on her first shot. Ringwald is like that. Even as an actress she tried harder than anyone else to develop her talent, and sometimes she fell flat while at other times she soared. But her ambition was and is enormous. And leaping over the cliff is what a good author does.
So I will disagree with some very distinct and talented review writers. With stark writing that swells into authority at her best, Ringwald is impressive. Some stories work. Some don’t. But the conflagration of talent is there, in every effort.
The novel follows a Los Angeles family, Greta, Phillip and their 6 year old daughter, Charlotte. In the opening story, Harvest Moon, the couple and their daughter Charlotte to see a harvest moon which only occurs every twenty years. They are in the car and are not sure whether to head toward the mountains or the ocean: which location will give them the best view of such a clairvoyant natural occurrence? Greta watches Phillip as he drives, catching every nuance of emotion on the face she knows so well. “What makes this one so special is the fact that it’s so close to the equinox,” says Phillip. “Usually it’s days or maybe even weeks apart, but this time it’s only six hours!”
Greta explains to Charlotte that the equinox means when day and night are about the same length, and Charlotte screams “I know.” Phillip has already told her. As Greta turns around to reprimand Charlotte, she watches Charlotte kill a bug and tells Phillip to stop the car: Greta is going to be sick. Out of the car, retching, Greta looks up toward the ocean beach and can’t see any moon. Greta is on hormone shots, trying to have another child. Phillip states that they need to go home because Charlotte’s young violin teacher, Theresa will be coming to give Charlotte her violin lessons.
Ringwald sets up the plot like a pro. The feckless moon does not appear, and the couple fails to create magic, while simultaneously Phillip’s infidelity with Theresa lingers on the cusp. As the story ends, with Phillip in tears, Greta suddenly realizes there will be no harvest moon for them – ever.
At her best, melodious, true and crisp, raging with tenderness and sometimes just raging, Ringwald tells the story of Phillip, Greta and Charlotte in a string of stories from the viewpoint of peripheral characters. Family, neighbors and Charlotte. Each story follows as Greta grapples with Phillip’s infidelity with her daughter’s young violin teacher. As Greta transforms from rigid to human, Phillip transforms to adult and Ringwald trips us breathlessly down into the hidden emotional trajectories of imperfect marriages, fragile parenthood, loss, betrayal and transcendence in a voice that proclaims its authority.
Are some of the stories better than others? Yes.
Are some of the stories unfulfilling as a novel chapter? Yes, AND when Ringwald hits true in many of the stories of a family and child struggling with life, she hits the high note perfectly. Ringwald did the same thing as an actress. She started out cute and precocious, tried a difficult role, and kept going until she became a talent. Out of the chute, we see Ringwald doing the same thing in When It Happens to You. Gutsy and ambitious, Ringwald puts herself on the line.
Sometimes genius, sometimes a tepid, When It Happens to You is intrinsically rewarding. I didn’t mind the missteps at all; I simply admired the brilliance when it occurred.
And I have a feeling Ringwald will continue on to set us on fire as an author. No more Pretty in Pink, Ringwald has come of age.
When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories has been in stores since August. What took us so long?
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.