- Book Review: Happens Every Day An All-Too True Story
- Book Review: A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story – Part I
- Book Review: A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story – Part II
General Book Review Disclaimer
I tend to be quite picky; I don’t want to give 4 or 5 stars because something simply has meritable content. I base my reviews on author knowledge, content, writing quality and creativity, grammar and editing, and the use or overuse of excerpted passages.
I love references, but I do not find it appropriate to write a book of excerpts strung together by a few transitional passages.
1 star: Poor or worse than poor, not recommended
2 stars: Below average, not recommended
3 stars: Average and thus good, possibly recommended with caveats
4 stars: Great, recommended
5 stars: Amazing, mind blowing, recommended
By Isabel Gillies
Yes it does happen every day. And yes it is painful as well as traumatic. But that doesn’t mean anyone with the ability to string a few words together to make sentences should be given a publishing contract for their story. Memoir is narrative nonfiction. That means it is factual events told through story. In order to do that there should be an arc of development from the beginning to the end. The author needs some license to paint the scene visually and there should be introspective interiority since the main character is the author reflecting on their own life. The story of infidelity and divorce is so common that it needs an uncommon voice, someone with literary talent, not merely someone who can tell the same story as a large percentage of other divorced men and women.
Unfortunately Isabel Gillies is not literarily talented. This is not a self-published book and I find it a betrayal to talented authors that editors select such works over higher quality story-telling and that once the editors have such a manuscript they do not rein in the authors by editing out the trivial ramblings that inflate the text to at least twice what it should be.
Is Happens Every Day supposed to be about betrayal, loss and recovery or about betrayal and loss or about recovery from betrayal and loss? Does it cover the entire arc or parts and what did the author mean to cover—did she fail in her mission?
She married a poet—his PhD was in poetry. It would seem natural for such a man to be introspectively interior. He married a woman attuned visually, her focus was more external. There is nothing right or wrong with either, both are natural variations on personality. But her insecurities lead her to interpret his interior understanding of her to be indicative of a dislike of who she was on a daily basis, she feared he was unable to relate to her. Since she is the authorial voice my sense of him is only through her perspective and it seems he did understand or make efforts to understand her—in his interior way. The person who seemed unable to relate was the author. He fluidly moved between her external world and his intellectual and interior world of academia, whereas she seemed unable or unwilling to shift between the two worlds.
She believes that love gives you no choices. “Once you are in love I don’t think you have a lot of choices. You just have to ride it out.” (Page 44) If love is not a choice, it just happens and the reverse is also true, the unnamed force that is not choice may change and it can unhappen and a person has no say, no control; no choice. So there is nothing a person can do. Marriage and love cannot be created and they are not work; they are just something that strikes like lightening or burns and goes out like fireworks. How disempowering. Gillies seems stuck in romantic delusions of perfection content with the pretty picture she thinks her little family makes without concerning herself with its interior structure. Her vignettes of these romantic delusions are functional to the story in that they help set the scene of her life and marriage; but she doesn’t seem to understand that they are delusions. She uses them to establish how solid her romance felt which then leads the reader to understand the shock of betrayal which was soon to follow.
The kernel of the story does not begin for over a hundred pages. She spends the first 90 or so pages setting the scene of how she and her husband came to Oberlin, referencing her privileged upbringing and reviewing superficial bits of scenery which all reveal her as having a disconnect with mainstream society. The mild foreshadowing begins on page 80 and builds, but the kernel of the story doesn’t begin until page 105 when she becomes direct about her suspicions of infidelity in a phone conversation with a friend. The this marriage is over Bomb Drop does not occur until page 127.
Cut the first 80 pages to a short—5 page—essay. Keep the opening paragraph and the ending paragraph of the first chapter as a prologue before the background essay. Cut page 80 – 105 to 5 – 10 pages and cut pages 105 – 127 to 10 pages. After Bomb Drop the reader reaches the story promised in the inside flap. Finally.
From that point the book has some merit. The inside flap says the story is redemptive, but that would require showing the journey to the happy ending rather than merely stating that it has a happy ending in the last few pages. Gillies’ story focuses on the early phase of Stress Response which begins with Bomb Drop and typically lasts about 6-12 weeks. After that point most people regain some resiliency—but that is just the beginning and it may feel like a small gain.
That phase is crazy-making. Her betraying husband gaslights her and she reacts in typical manners. She shows the fear and obsessive thoughts along with the denial—maybe it’s not both of them, maybe he’s pursuing and Sylvia is not responding. She tries to convince herself that she really has no idea and yet her suspicions that lead to Bomb Drop are evidence that she has the main idea. I’ve been there and I understand it. If people are concerned that she seems like a doormat or stuck in poor-me victim mode; this is normal for this initial period after Bomb Drop. Getting stuck in the poor-me state is when a person does not move through this normal period of reaction to the shock.
This initial phase is the beginning of the journey and does not follow through an arc of character development. So of course ending the story with what might have been the end of the initial Stress Response that followed Bomb Drop will not show growth and reflection. That was a flaw in the book but not in her story or actions. Gillies failed to finish the story in this book. In her defense she wrote two books. The first, Happens Every Day, reviews the betrayal and ends with a reference to her new husband but fails to deliver on a full character arc. The second, A Year and Six Seconds, reviews this recovery phase—which given her time line leads me to be skeptical. The last line of her epilogue states And then I met the love of my life… This hints at the second book, but after 3.5 years after Bomb Drop she is already married to the love of her life? That leaves little time for recovery, dating and remarriage. She also thought her first husband was the love of her life. But regardless that does not excuse the incomplete book or the publishers for publishing it. The two books are a single story and need to be in a single book.