When It Happens To You: A Novel in Stories

By Molly Ringwald

Itbooks/HarperCollins, $24.99, 256 pages

Who is this author?

There are actors. And there are authors. And there are some who are both. James
Franco, Steve Martin and William Shatner all have written novels or story collections, some that qualify as fun reads and others as genuine literary fiction. To that last category, we can now add actress Molly Ringwald, who enchanted Baby Boomer audiences in such John Hughes-directed blockbusters as “The Breakfast Club, “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty In Pink” and was a card-carrying member of the group of actors dubbed the Brat Pack. My, but that seems like such a long time ago.

She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children, and she has contributed articles to such publications as The New York Times, Parade, Esquire, and the Hartford Courant. Yes, she once wrote a book review for The Courant, before my time there as Books Editor.

What is this book about?

It’s a collection of linked stories about a family in Los Angeles and their friends and neighbors. They’re ordinary people – but that does not mean they are not complex characters. They suffer with their individual problems – growing older, being infertile, suffering a breakdown, mourning a lost spouse, being estranged from a child, having a kid who wants to cross-dress, being betrayed by a husband – all experiences to which readers can relate. The stories are anchored by the unhappily married Philip and Greta and people with whom they are connected.

Why you’ll like it:

Everybody likes a good soap opera, and reading this collection of stories is like watching episodes of a fascinating daytime drama, in which certain characters appear and re-appear, interacting with one another in constantly shifting constellations. There is plenty of emotion and plenty of compassion by the author for her creations and enough criss-crossing events to keep the reader caught up in their stories. While some reviewers say Ringwald, who has also written the essay collection, “Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick,” is best characterized as an apprentice author, others found the book charming and engrossing. 

What others are saying: 

Publishers Weekly says: “This “novel in stories” is set in the L.A. you see on television, the one where everyone is somehow connected to everyone else. ….In many ways Ringwald knows of what she speaks, having spent many years in the ’80s as a fixture of the Brat Pack, and she has the mechanics of writing down, but you can hear the gears grinding; the stories are often exposition heavy, the characters seem more defined by their situations than their idiosyncratic histories, and things tend to resolve a little too tidily, even when the point is the continuing messiness of relationships. As a result, this debut work of fiction, which reads well, never gets traction in your mind. It’s probably best seen as an example of one of celebrity’s mixed blessings: your name gets you in the door but your apprenticeship takes place in public.

“Everyone hopes that love will last forever, that only other people’s loves will fail. But what if the unthinkable happens to you? Ringwald’s debut novel employs a series of interlaced stories with a constellation of characters at different stages of life facing varied obstacles (many self-created) in the path of love. Ringwald deftly weaves together the threads of these stories, creating a tapestry that captures the emotional landscape of both young and well-worn relationships. Amid the dust of that landscape lies … a letter that exposes the myriad emotions swirling in the aftermath of a betrayed love. This is a beautiful exploration of how the heart’s irrational responses to love and betrayal can stand in the way of forgiveness,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“In her first novel…this queen of 1980s teenage angst…puts betrayal center stage. And she does it in a way that’s as visceral as a girl’s disgust when everyone forgets her 16th birthday…A large part of what makes this novel-in-stories so enjoyable is its structure, the way the connections between characters unfold from piece to piece. Each story could stand on its own, but they fit together to reveal links among these family members, neighbors and friends in Los Angeles…Ringwald weaves an emotional narrative that avoids getting bogged down in melodrama. With an economy of language, she keeps the story moving, taking readers inside characters’ heads without leaving them there too long. Ringwald’s storytelling succeeds as much on the page as her acting has done on screen,” says The Washington Post.

Booklist calls “When It Happens to You” a “graceful and deft debut.”

When is it available?

It happens to be waiting for you at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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