Here’s fast-food misery, double shakes and an order of sighs to go, served up in Many Things Have Happened…, a first novel told as a taped autobiography of a 20-year old Alabama fundamentalist whose great interest in life is writing a best-seller about her domestic sufferings. Despite the title’s promise, very little happens after the heroine’s father (we can’t avoid the allusion to God, however much we’d like to) dies. These are the main events: She marries a dental student named Malone, who is abusive and leaves her. Malone comes back and for a while is a kind, attentive husband. That doesn’t help, since she liked him better when he was a jerk. Malone suffers an emotional relapse and dies of a drug overdose. The nameless heroine gives birth to their child, whom she gives up for adoption. She fulfills her ambition to write her story: ”I am going to use these notes to write an autobiography which will illustrate the strength of modern woman against tribulation and the loss of God in modern society and I will go on Oprah Winfrey and be rich and famous and everybody will know what he did to me and they will say that is one amazing woman do you know what he did to her.”
These events are suspended in a glutinous monologue that alternately describes the tedium of her daily life (game shows, junk food, suffering) and gives way to spiteful outbursts against her enemies both familiar and unknown — gays, lawyers, the recipients of donated body organs.
We’re meant to see the heroine as the victim of patriarchal Christianity, flailing pluckily against a system that demands her submission. But she doesn’t notice that it tortures men to play God as much as it does women to yield to their authority. Malone is abusive and unreliable. But she marries him without loving him, compares the color of his hair to ”dog mess,” despises him sexually, and expects him to be perfect. The weary sequences of run-on sentences and predictable events make you begin to idealize punctuation, to long for the missing commas and question marks, those signs of nuance, qualification, contradiction, questioning. This is the grinding tonelessness of manipulative suffering, the voice of a woman who will let nothing else happen to her.