A couple stories into When It Happens to You, it is easy to dismiss Molly Ringwald as nothing more than a celebrity author. Yes, she's a good writer—surprisingly good in fact—but she's not doing anything original. Those first couple stories reminded me all too much of the suppressed-woman-coming-of-age-midlife story that has blanketed literary magazines and been the focus of so many creative writing workshops since the 70s. It's been done, Ms. Ringwald, and while you're good at it, sorry, but you're not as good as the many greats that have preceded you. Two stories down and so many more to go—if they'd continued like this I probably wouldn't have made it.
Then Ringwald surprised me. Out of nowhere she presents one of the most original, heartrending stories I've read in years. Gorgeous. Amazing. Well played in so many regards. “My Olivia” found that special place between my heart and mind that only two other short stories had previously occupied—those having been written by Rabindranath Tagore and Zora Neale Hurston. Very good company to keep, in my opinion. Hello, Ms. Ringwald, and welcome to my world.
After “My Olivia” I knew Ringwald wouldn't be able to top herself. She couldn't. And I was right. But now every thread of my attention was gathering together, receptive to what else she could do. And she certainly pulled some punches. Perhaps the first two stories of this collection were of the same caliber and I just hadn't been expecting it. Perhaps I missed something. I think, however, that Ringwald was setting the stage in those initial stories for everything else she had planned. Aside from “My Olivia,” my favorite piece was “When it Happens to You,” a short, but poignant piece that aptly gives the entire collection its backbone.
Molly Ringwald didn't exceed my expectations as much as she shattered them. A perfect collection? Not at all, but certainly a great writer with a possible future (in writing). Here's to you, Ms. Ringwald: May those who read you because of your name find the beauty in your work and may the literati discover your talents despite your name.