WRITING, LIKE ACTING, is an act of definition, the artist asserting the existence of her characters with their every action and line of dialogue. Molly Ringwald’s move into the literary realm might be seen as an act of redefinition — and it is on just such redefinitions of self that her stories hinge. She offers some characters who have outgrown their old selves and have to break it to their loved ones; others who have become what they never expected to; and still others who fear what will happen if they allow the people around them to see them as they really are.
In the collection’s first story, 6-year-old Charlotte plays a what-if? game with her mother: “And what if I grew extra arms and legs, and they were furry like a spider, would you still love me then?” This points us directly toward the central dilemma of all of Ringwald’s characters: What if I’m not the person you think I am? What will happen to us then? The collection revolves around the narrative of Charlotte’s parents, Phillip and Greta, and their disintegrating marriage. The pair met as undergraduates at Stanford; when the book opens, many years later, they are living in Los Angeles, apparently happily. We meet the family as Phillip is rushing them out to see the harvest moon, which gives its title to the book’s first story, while Greta struggles into her skinny jeans, bemoaning the weight gain that has accompanied her thus-far-unsuccessful fertility treatments. The couple’s efforts to have a second child have caused some friction in the relationship, but things seem to be going as well as they usually do, the ups and downs not a threat to the structure of family life. Soon, however, this vision implodes. Phillip — as becomes clear to readers more quickly than to Greta — has been having an affair with Theresa, Charlotte’s teenage violin teacher. As the stories unfold, Greta will reel from the shock, and Phillip will break down under her interrogations, eventually revealing that it isn’t because he loves Theresa, but because she sees him as he wants to be seen: “She wanted him, he told Greta in one of the most raggedly honest moments of their marriage, during the brief pause before she closed her heart to him. The girl wanted him and that had been enough.” Greta, who torments herself with the details of Phillip’s infidelity, eventually realizes that what she sees as her claim to her husband — she understands him in a way this violin-playing girl never will — is, in fact, precisely what drives him into Theresa’s arms. “He doesn’t want to be understood. He wants to be misunderstood because in that misunderstanding lies the possibility of reinvention.”
Reinvention, then, is the goal of every character — be it Phillip, who wants first to be wanted, and then to be a husband again; Greta, who has devoted too much of herself to her marriage; a children’s television star who wants desperately to be taken seriously as an actor; or an elderly woman who regrets closing her heart to her daughter and gets a second chance with Greta and Phillip’s daughter Charlotte. Ringwald’s novel-in-stories is told from a variety of perspectives, all circling loosely around Phillip and Greta; it allows us to experience these characters in a multitude of ways, in a multitude of roles, as the true multitude of people that every individual really is. This form is satisfying, as if we’ve been let loose in ...read more