Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in order to participate in a planned From Left to Write Book Club discussion scheduled for July 21. *I am an Amazon Associate. Use of the purchasing links in this review will generate a small referral fee for me.
This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0399156658 / 9780399156656)
Nonfiction/Memoir, 352 pages
Opening Lines: “At this moment in my life, I am strangely serene. In fact, I may have never felt more calm. Or more freed. Or more certain that these things owe themselves to a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really fucking stinks.”
When Laura Munson’s essay was published, The New York Times was so flooded with responses that they had to close down the comment feature. Readers wrote in saying that they had sent the column to all of their friends. Therapists wrote Munson to tell her that they were passing it out to their clients.
What did Munson write that caused such a fervor?
Laura detailed what happened when her husband of more than twenty years told her he wasn’t sure he loved her anymore and wanted to move out. And while you might think you know where this story is going, this isn’t the story you think it is. Laura’s response to her husband: “I don’t buy it.”
In this poignant, wise, and often funny memoir, Munson recounts a period of months in which her faith in herself-and her marriage-was put to the test. Shaken to the core after the death of her beloved father, not finding the professional success that she had hoped for, and after countless hours of therapy, Laura finally, at age forty, realized she had to stop basing her happiness on things outside her control and commit herself to an “End of Suffering.” This Is Not The Story You Think It Is… chronicles a woman coming to terms with the myths we tell ourselves-and others-about our life and realizing that ultimately happiness is completely within our control.
Comments: This wasn’t the story I thought it would be – or the one I hoped for, to be honest. I haven’t exactly been in Laura Munson’s shoes, but about eleven years ago, mine were a very similar style and size. I have to admit that that even now, I was looking to find some validation from shoes that had walked in the same direction.
However, Laura and I are very different people, and she was probably a lot better prepared to face a marriage crisis than I was. She was a more forceful personality (and probably still is). She was much more able to see that what was happening really wasn’t about her, and more effective at managing and deflecting the blame both she and her husband directed at her. Despite those strengths, it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns, of course – but unless you’ve been through something similar and can bring that perspective, I’m not sure the book itself will give you a strong sense of emotionally difficult it most likely was. However, it did seem to be, as the book’s subtitle says, “a season of unlikely happiness.” My own period of separation from my first husband had its elements of that too, along with the moments of confusion and lack of clarity.
Munson claims to be honest in telling her story, and while a non-witness can’t know that for certain, her writing certainly felt honest to me – journal-like in places, with a very conversational tone and frequent use of humor. However, I have to be honest myself; I didn’t end up finding her story as compelling as I’d hoped to, and I felt that was in part due to the way it was told. There’s a lot of therapy-speak here; most of it’s relevant, but it can become grating for me after a while. I found Laura’s frequent references to her privileged background both relevant and grating as well. Munson has been a working writer for years, but this is her first published book, and without the notoriety of her New York Times essay, I have to wonder if it would have sold so readily.
This one falls solidly into the “I wanted to like it more than I did” category, but as someone who’s been through a variation on Laura Munson’s story herself, I may have brought some unwarranted expectations to my reading of it. Having said that, the book is definitely a discussion starter, and I do think it could be helpful, hopeful and inspiring if the reader’s in the right frame of mine for it. And I don’t think it hurts to be reminded sometimes that life isn’t the story we think it is, either.