All Grown Up: Molly Ringwald’s ‘When It Happens To You’
I’m a real sucker for those ‘Where are they now’ type programmes. Call me sentimental, but I sobbed (in a good way) through the one about what became of the children in The Sound of Music. Watching the film clip where they’re marching and dancing round the fountains in Salzburg and then cutting to the exact same scene but with them as they are now – that sort of thing gets me every time. I feel so protective over those six children, especially little Gretl. They had all turned out well adjusted and were leading seemingly happy and fulfilled lives. There are, sadly, lots of examples of the ones who didn’t make it like Jack Wild and Dana Plato.
It must be so weird to be someone, especially a child star, who has entered so wholly into the public consciousness that you remain there, forever young, in a form of suspended animation.
When I heard the actress Molly Ringwald had written a novel I was intrigued. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought that much about her since I last saw her snogging Andrew McCarthy after the prom in Pretty in Pink. She was more the poster girl for my sister’s generation than mine but still, all those films are burnt into my memory. In all the pre-publicity before When It Happens To You was published, she said that people had ‘very low expectations’ of her debut. She said she has always written but it was not until she was staring 40 in the face, that she thought she would finally show it to people. She apparently wrote the basic structure of it on her iPhone whilst on a film set.
The structure is really clever. It is written as a series of eight interlocking stories – the connections between them at first appear hazy, but gradually they begin to reveal themselves. At the heart of it is a married couple – Phillip and Greta – and it examines the disintegration of their 18 year marriage and its impact on their young daughter, Charlotte. Greta is having IVF for secondary infertility whilst Phillip is screwing their daughter’s violin teacher. Then we go off at a seeming unrelated tangent to a bereaved elderly woman and then a single mother who is dealing with her young son, Oliver, who insists on wearing girls clothes and wants to be Olivia. You find that a character that appeared quite prominently in a previous story is then a walk-on in a subsequent one, and something is suddenly illuminated. I really like this style and the author handles it with subtlety and skill. The theme of betrayal underpins the whole novel but manifests itself in many interesting ways.
It must be very hard to have this weight of expectation on you as a writer. Some people don’t seem to like people coming out of their tightly fitting boxes, as we saw by the whole J K Rowling The Casual Vacancy backlash last week. Personally, if I didn’t know this book was by Molly Ringwald and I’d read an excerpt or the back cover blurb, I would still have picked it it up. Knowing it’s by her adds another dimension to it, but for me, it stands on its own merits.