When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories (Review)

Book cover for "When It Happens to You" by Molly Ringwald.Title: When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories

Author/Narrator: Molly Ringwald

Publication Year: 2012

Pages: 256 (audio length: 6 hours 18 minutes)

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

When it happens to you, you will be surprised. That thing they say about how you knew all the time, but just weren’t facing it? That might be the case, but nevertheless, there you will be.

Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life – revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all.

Normally, this book description would kind of put me off. I don’t normally go in for those slices-of-family-life type of book, but I gave this one a shot for three reasons: it was written in the form of short stories (which I love), it was nominated for an Audie award, and I was curious to see whether Molly Ringwald could actually write (and narrate) a book.

When It Happens to You made good on its promises.

For starters, Ringwald can actually write. I loved – and hated – the nuanced characters and the ways in which they interacted with each other. She found a way to interlink the characters through the different narratives, while at the same time, giving each of the primary characters a distinctive voice of their own. The fluidity with which Ringwald shifted between perspectives and the way in which she managed not to trivialize any of their issues pulled me into their stories and made me want, desperately, for everything to work out in the end. In particular, I loved a minor character in the book named Oliver, but who prefers the name Olivia since he feels that he is really a little girl. The raw way that this character’s hopes and pain were brought through the page was something that I hadn’t been expecting.

Also, When It Happens to You was one of the few books where I actually felt like the author did an amazing job narrating their own (fictional) work. It’s rare for me to listen to a novel where the author feels like the perfect “fit” as the narrator, but Ringwald pulled it off. Perhaps it’s because she’s an actor, or maybe just because of the intensely emotional nature of the stories and the connection she must have had with them in order to write them that way, but she really managed to bring them to life through her narration. Her inflection was just what the stories needed to make them even more accessible and poignant for the reader.

Finally, even though it wasn’t the type of narrative I usually enjoy, I found that there were enough unexpected elements to the narrative to keep me interested. It wasn’t quite as much of a conventional family tale as the jacket cover might lead you to believe. I found myself wanting to hear more, to go beyond the edges of some of the stories to find out more about what happened to each of the characters. I didn’t want When It Happens to You to end.



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