Isabel Gillies: Happens Every Day

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story - Isabel Gillies

This is a 3-star book that gets a fourth star because I could not put it down.

Well, to be fair, the first quarter of the book is pretty awful. I understand that when you're rich and living in New York, moving to any other part of the country is going to be a step down. But here's how Gillies reacts to this traumatic life change:

"I cried for my life in New York and for my parents, whom I had just left in Maine, and for my broken dream that I had married a man who would have a dinner plan for his family who had just given up everything to join him. I cried because my New York license had expired and my next one would be an Ohio license. I cried for my children having to say they were from the Midwest."

This passage is breathtaking in its snobbery. You know what we call someone who looks down on a person for having been raised somewhere else? A bigot. I guess Gillies doesn't know that most people aren't bigots and won't feel a pang of pity when they learn that her sons were raised in Ohio (a handicap she manages to undo by the end of the book, of course). Also, did she just say that she and her sons "had just given up everything"? Because here's what they haven't given up: great housing, good food, a safe place to live, family, two good incomes, education, access to medical care, citizenship, or really any type of freedom. The ONLY thing they had given up was living in New York City, which is not "everything."

After Gillies comes to term with her voluntary exile in Ohio, the book offers turns into a humble brag. She manages to find some rough gems in Oberlin, such as an organic farm where she and her boys help pick tomahtoes, a fantastic lunch place ("Gourmet should do a story on them"), and oodles of wildflowers that Gillies adorably sells in canning jars to help support the organic farm (before she begins teaching at the local university, of course). She and her husband leave the faculty house and buy the prettiest house any of us has ever seen, which she redecorates herself, brave soul: "I spent all my time tearing pages out of House & Garden and begging New York fabric houses to send samples to Ohio." Dear reader, how did she survive not being in New York??? Oh the humanity!

The only thing that kept me going through the first part of the book was knowing what was coming. I guess a certain amount of snobbery is sufferable if one is aware that the author is about to face a harsh fall. Although what her husband did next is something nobody would wish on their worst enemy, bigoted or not. And I think she brought something new to this story by describing how being lied to by her husband and his mistress while everyone around her knew the truth is its own special form of gaslighting, and the pain and confusion this state caused her was the most insightful part of this book.

As noted by other readers, Gillies is not much of an author, and I won't be reaching for the second part of her memoir, A Year and Six Seconds: A Memoir of Stumbling from Heartbreak to Happiness, or for her upcoming novel. Nevertheless, she manages to maintain a great deal of tension throughout this book, which makes it very readable despite its flaws. I would recommend it for anyone who is looking for an easy read — and who is not in a similarly awful situation.