Monday, May 3, 2010

Book review: Happens Every Day

I heard a review of Happens Every Day on the radio a while back and had to get it strictly for prurient reasons as it is set in Oberlin, the town of my alma mater, and tells the true tale of an English professor leaving his wife for another English professor.   Even aside from the lovely gossipy nature of it (and revenge, as the book became a best-seller--take THAT Mr. Poetry Professor), it was well-written in a breezy and brutal sort of way.

I love Isabel Gillies' sense of humor through it all, and her insider/outsider description of academia.  Here she is describing getting a teaching job at a college:

It's a barbaric process that thousands of hardworking, way overly educated people slog through year after year, dearly hoping to get paid $43,000 at the University of Shagoog in North Who-knows-where Nevada.
Can any anonymous readers out there relate?

Boy does Gillies get the fishbowl nature of the small-town college.  I remember it well from my brief days in Gambier: how everyone knew what car you drove, whether you were at home or not; how even under the most trying of social circumstances, you had to find ways to stay on good terms with everyone.  It was painfully familiar.

At the same time, it's a strange book--or maybe it was just strange for me.  Partly because of the eerily familiar nature of the society, I suppose.  Partly because the (understandable) desperation of the author makes her seem strange.  Partly because though I knew from the outset of the book that her husband is leaving her, the author doesn't know it, no one in her circle really knows or believes it, until the very end and it made me wonder, too.  Partly because there is this salacious desire the book engenders to see this guy get his, and I suppose he does.  He's completely exposed as an utter jackass, and yet somehow that doesn't feel like enough.  Probably because what I really wanted is for none of this to happen in the first place.

I recommend it, but be warned, if you're like me,  it may make for a little squirminess and perhaps an unpleasant taste left in the mouth.  It's not exactly a book of revenge, but it has its revenge nonetheless.

Update: An anonymous commenter who is a friend of the husband in the case says not to presume that this is a fair and balanced account.  I think that is one of the "unpleasant taste" issues with the book: we don't get to hear the husband's side of things.  So take it for what it's worth: a well-written book from one party's side, for what that's worth.


Anonymous said...

In answer to your query, this anonymous reader reports that (a) she probably will seek out this book and read it with a kind of grisly fascination as it reports on the kind of small-town life that makes her grateful for life in a small city, but (b) she probably will not be able to relate to a book that includes sentences like this one: "We had gotten the job (in academics you end up saying "we" even if it actually isn't "we," because you move around so much together from job to job that one person slowly loses his or her identity) right after I gave birth in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to our son James Thacher." Anonymous is relieved to report that she has never seen or heard anyone do this, and the very idea makes her shudder.

Thanks for asking,


Anonymous said...

Laura, I'd recommend not presuming this is a very fair or balanced account. Those of us who are friends of the husband have a very different view of things.

Laura Toepfer said...

I can't say I'm shocked to hear that. I think I should make an amendment to the review taking that into account. Thanks for commenting.