This time we’re getting snotty ’bout Molly.

When It Happens to You

Lara: I’m not gonna lie; I was super excited to read this book. I mean, here’s one of my Gen X heroes, John Hughes’ teen queen, a girl I feel like I grew up with. She was like the slightly cooler, but still awkward friend, with that killer chocolate brown suede skirt from The Breakfast Club. I am happy for her and her new book. And, I really enjoyed it.

Jennifer: I just read this tribute to Hughes, and it heralded him as the voice of Gen X—which may be true, though I tend to associate them more with Douglas Coupland, Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, David Foster Wallace for some reason—but . . . but . . . where was I going with this? Gen X. Yeah, Gen X. I wanted more from Molly, more depth, more Gen X thematic intrusions—the angst, the trials, the finesse, the Coupland/Apatow/Fey/DFW magic. And let’s not forget my own Love Slave. I wanted Generation X!

Lara: I think Hughes is more accessible, as are Fey and Apatow, to the masses of our generation and others. Coupland may be too, but who’s heard of him? And David Foster Wallace is in a different realm. Like in the special room of the house that is beautiful but you’d better not touch anything in there. The decorative towels of Gen X. (Of course DFW isn’t here to read my reference to him as a decorative towel, may he R.I.P.). Nonetheless, I liked When It Happens to You because it DOES happen to you – life, love, betrayal, pain and confusion. Put the main characters Greta and Phillip in their late thirties, and this is totally Gen X. Right?

Jennifer: Seriously? Everyone knows who Douglas Coupland is, right? No? As for David Foster Wallace, I agree—mostly—with the idea that he isn’t terribly accessible. And he is, notably, dead. As is our old friend, Kurt Cobain. I guess, what I’m thinking here, is that—bear with me, Lara, I’m about to get elusive—Gen X is a whirlpool of dead-end philosophies, pop culture allusions, and Baby Boomer Backlash. There are two responses: die because life is utterly meaningless and the drugs aren’t working anymore (DFW and Cobain) or be super, super funny (Apatow, Fey). Where does Molly fit in? She’s not going to kill herself. And she’s not going to make you laugh. She’s terribly lukewarm.

Okay, if you don’t want to go there, if you’re unwilling to discuss Molly Ringwald’s suicide inclinations (Lordy, I’m going too far), allow me to return to the book, the novel-in-stories. I’m coming off a bit too strongly. I did not hate this book. I just didn’t love it either. Maybe it had to do with what I expect from a short story (an ahhh moment?). Maybe it’s because I’m jealous of her. I mean, really, check this out. Where were the ahhh moments in this collection?

Lara: You are referring to the loud, large and statement-making moments of our generation. And with that, there’s a quiet side. When It Happens to You is Gen-X grown up. Maybe a little worse for the wear, definitely more tired and introspective. And that’s what I liked about this novel-in-stories (which I think is a marketing way to attract both short story readers and novel- lovers).

Take Greta and Phillip. They were the love of each other’s lives, parents to sweet and slightly precocious Charlotte. Attempts at having another child have morphed into masturbating into a cup (so THIS is the reference you made on Facebook that authors should never write about masturbation!) for artificial insemination, to self-injected shots, to an affair.

I thought she captured the infidelity, in a seemingly happy marriage, and the feelings it leaves you with… perfectly.

“When it happens to you, you will wonder if he loved her. He will assure you that he did not, that it wasn’t about love. He will tell you it was about something else entirely… when it happens, you will hear the girl’s name everywhere… Of course you will be reminded that there are worse things… Neither you or anyone you know has cancer… that would be a real tragedy.”

And yet the loss of a relationship, for whatever reason, is a tragedy that must be mourned. Greta’s grief and sense of loss regarding her marriage felt very real and resonated with me.

Jennifer: Actually, you have a point there with the quiet, grown up thing. The book is, indeed, quiet. And I think you’re onto something with this infertility/infidelity thing. When we were young, we were fertile, nubile, bubbling over with verdant sexuality (verdant?). Look at me, and I’d blush. Touch me, and I’d get pregnant. But now, in our forties, we can’t reproduce for anything. And then, then, when we’ve finally settled into this creepy marriage thing that’s supposed to be about love and trust, it turns out there’s quite a bit of desolation and fraudulence. Molly presents this pretty well, albeit quietly. (Or is it superficially?)

I do, however, offer her my kudos on the end, which I found almost brave. Some other notes on the writing: I noticed a few point-of-view violations. We can overlook those. (You should probably overlook any in my work, as well.) The title story, which you reference—“When It Happens To You”—is probably the strongest in the collection, I thought. And in terms of celebrities trying out fiction? Well, I’ve read the fictional endeavors of James Franco, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, and Molly Ringwald. While Moore’s Freckleface Strawberry is probably the best, Ringwald makes a noble effort.

Lara: It’s definitely quiet, reflective even. And I agree with you on the ending. So many books are ruined by their endings. I also think the title story is the strongest, bravest, and most true. But “The Little One” about Greta’s daughter, Charlotte, and her interactions with Betty, the estranged mother of her own grown daughter, got me in a physical heart-tugging kind of way.

I think Ringwald’s effort is better than noble. Are you saying she’s a good writer for an actor? I think she’s a good writer and if I would have to equate her with another celebrity writer, it would be in the Steve Martin Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company circle – not as witty, though.

Jennifer: Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t put Steve Martin in the same category. Not gonna happen. Have I ever told you about the time my family ran into Steve Martin with his then-wife Victoria Tennant at the Phoenix Art Museum? I’ll save it.

Am I saying she writes well for an actress? Let me ask you this: would you like to see me perform the Shirley MaClaine role in Terms of Endearment?

Lara: I would pay money—good money—certainly more than the $2.00 I just gave that guy who walked up to our table claiming to be a silent (or was it slighted?) human being in need of a few bucks.