The heartbreakingly banal truth at the crux of Isabel Gillies’ debut memoir is this: ”When one person really wants to go, there is nothing you can do about it but watch them.” Happens Every Day is her unevenly written but emotionally involving account of a marriage that seemed nearly perfect — until the day it wasn’t. Gillies, an actress best known for her recurring role as Detective Stabler’s wife on Law & Order: SVU, begins her tale several years ago in her family’s lovingly restored Ohio dream house. Her foxy Ivy League husband, Josiah, has just accepted a tenured job at a highly regarded liberal arts college, her two young sons are thriving, and the author herself, a native New Yorker, is already taken with the bucolic charms of her adopted Midwestern town. By the first chapter’s end, however, the wrecking ball has swung: Within a month, Josiah leaves her for a pixieish fellow professor, and the life — house, children, marriage — that Gillies and her husband spent seven years building together is demolished.
It’s to Gillies’ credit that she stays as evenhanded as she does in the story that follows — and it’s a boon to her ex, since the book will be featured prominently in 7,000 Starbucks nationwide. But as a first-time author, she really could have used a stronger editor. Gillies often wanders off on awkward tangents, and the frequent lack of verb contractions can make what should be passionate exchanges sound oddly stilted and robotic (”How do I know that we will be alright?” ”I just think we will be happier”). At times, it’s also hard to sympathize with Gillies. Her rarefied circumstances — she’s a Manhattan-bred, Maine-summering blue blood who, as she tells us, once graced the cover of Seventeen and dated Mick Jagger — don’t exactly leave her without a safety net. Still, her collapse feels real, and in Happens Every Day there’s redemptive grace in her struggle, if not always in her prose. B