Review: In memoir 'Happens Every Day,' Isabel Gillies emerges from divorce with difficulty but not bitterness

This memoir begins on a lazy August afternoon in the college town of Oberlin, Ohio, where a loving husband surprises his wife by wallpapering the bathroom with a collage of family pictures. The pictures tell the story of a man and a woman, childhood companions who reunited after starting their careers and fell madly in love, the story of an American family: two beautiful, blissfully married parents with two blond, heartbreakingly adorable boys. They tell the story of Isabel Gillies and her husband, Josiah, who, within a month after wallpapering their bathroom, left his wife and sons for another woman.

Happens Every Day, by Isabel Gillies, is a happy book about a sad story. Isabel, an actor, had the perfect life. After marrying a professor of poetry with a mind like a "cathedral" and a passionate character, she gave up acting (and a recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and took up the life of academia.

Isabel nestled into her new Midwestern surroundings and found joy in domesticity, picking tomatoes with her boys at the local organic farm and selling flowers at the neighborhood market. She took a position teaching acting at the college. Life was slow and sweet.

Sylvia was a French Audrey Hepburn look-alike, demure and soft-spoken with a bookish wit. When Isabel first heard of her, Sylvia was interviewing with Josiah for a position in the English department. A month later, she was bringing an end to the life Isabel had built with her husband.

Happens Every Day reads like an intimate conversation with a lifelong friend. As Isabel's marriage dissolves, the reader is drawn into scenes of anger, hopefulness and self-doubt that anyone who has known heartbreak can relate to.

For a story about the tragedy of a failed marriage, Happens Every Day is enlightening and uplifting, devoid of bitterness and resentment, and reflective of a woman who has borne an immense burden and emerged victorious.

Sarah Dajani is a student at Princeton University.

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story

By Isabel

Gillies

Scribner, 272 pages, $25

Review: In memoir 'Happens Every Day,' Isabel Gillies emerges from divorce with difficulty but not bitterness 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:30am]

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