Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story

by Isabel Gillies

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Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life -- a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons.

When Josiah took a teaching job at a Midwestern college, Isabel and their sons moved with him from New York City to Ohio, where Isabel taught acting, threw herself into the college community, and delighted in the less-scheduled lives of toddlers raised away from the city. But within a few months, the marriage was over. The life Isabel had made crumbled. "Happens every day," said a friend.

Far from a self-pitying diatribe, Happens Every Day reads like an intimate conversation between friends. Gillies has written a dizzyingly candid, compulsively readable, ultimately redemptive story about love, marriage, family, heartbreak, and the unexpected turns of a life. On the one hand, reading this book is like watching a train wreck. On the other hand, as Gillies herself says, it is about trying to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, and loving your life even if it has slipped away. Hers is a remarkable new voice -- instinctive, funny, and irresistible.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440728242
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 06/10/2009
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.50(h) x 5.00(d)

About the Author

Isabel Gillies, known for her television role as Detective Stabler’s wife on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and for her cinematic debut in the film Metropolitan, graduated from New York University with a BFA in film. She lives in Manhattan with her second husband, her two sons, and her stepdaughter.

Read an Excerpt


One late August afternoon in our new house in Oberlin, Ohio, my husband, Josiah, took it upon himself to wallpaper the bathroom with pictures of our family. Over the years, we had collected an enormous number of framed pictures. Some were generations old and really should be called photographs; like the one of Josiah's grandfather, a Daniel Day-Lewis-like, strong-looking man, sitting in profile on a porch, casually surrounded by all his family, including my father-in-law, Sherman, at age ten. I always thought that picture would have been a good album cover for a southern rock band like Lynyrd Skynyrd. There was one of my great-grandmothers looking beautiful, rich, and Bostonian on her wedding day in 1913. There was a picture of my mother sitting on stairs at Sarah Lawrence College in Jackie O sunglasses and pigtails. Numerous black-and-white pictures of various family dogs.

My grandparents on my mother's side always had somewhere between two and six black labs around at any given time. There were also two St. Bernards, one named McKinley and the one before that, Matterhorn. They lived in Croton, New York, on the Hudson River, on Quaker Ridge Road and belonged to that John Cheever group of eccentric intellectuals that had a little extra money, mostly from prior generations, and a lot of time on their hands. My grandparents and John Cheever used to write letters to each other in the voices of their Labradors. Seriously. My grandfather had the mother, Sadie ("one of the great Labradors," he would say in his Brahmin accent), and Mr. Cheever had the daughter, Cassiopeia. Dogs are important in my family. But in addition to dogs my grandparents also had a raccoon, Conney, who would sit on one's shoulder during drinks and beg for scotch-coated ice cubes; a toucan; a sheep named Elizabeth; and, for a short time, two lion cubs. It sounds like they were vets or they lived on a farm, or they were nuts, but really they just loved animals and birds. The house that my mother grew up in was big and white with lots of lawn. They had a mimeograph in the living room that my grandmother Mimi knew how to operate and, as a family, they created The Quaker Ridge Bugle, which was later printed as a little local paper. My grandmother was an artist. She mainly painted and drew birds. My brother Andrew and I now have them on our walls. I remember her as very beautiful but thin. She wore long braids and black socks with sandals. She and my grandfather, who was a photographer among other things, lived in Guatemala later in their life, so I remember her shrouded in lots of brightly colored striped ponchos. In her day, though, she looked like a fey Katharine Hepburn. Like my grandfather, she was from a nice old American family. She was an odd bird. She was an intellectual, a good writer of letters, and also was probably one of the first anorexics. She rebelled against her aristocratic, proper upbringing as much as she could by becoming an artist and leading a somewhat alternative life filled with books and chaos. She spent many hours in her studio alone, away from her children, whom she didn't really know what to do with. My mother, the eldest, ended up running the show a bit, which is probably why she is such an organizational dynamo now. "It sounds a little looney, and it was," my mother says.

Among the pictures Josiah hung on the bathroom wall was one of my father shaking hands at an Upper West Side street fair when he ran for New York City Council in 1977. He didn't win the election, but my memory of that is not as strong as my memory of his photograph plastered on the front of the Eighty-sixth...

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Isabel Gillies had a picture perfect life: she lived with her loving husband and two wonderful children in a gorgeous home in Oberlin, Ohio. She was splitting her time between teaching drama and being a mother and wife. It was perfect – too perfect.

When a new professor at Oberlin named Sylvia enters Isabel’s life, she embraces her as a close friend. But Isabel soon begins to suspect that Sylvia and Isabel’s husband, Josiah, are having an affair. A devastated Isabel frantically attempts to make things work but realizes that she must deal with loss of her marriage and the breakdown of her family; an event that apparently “happens every day.”

Happens Every Day is the story of a woman who left everything she knew to be with the man of her dreams, only to have that man break her heart. It is a book about losing love, finding strength, and moving on.

Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss the theme of identity in the book. Did Isabel give up any of her identity when she made the choice to follow Josiah? Follow this up with Isabel’s notion that “when you move around so much together from job to job…one person slowly loses their identity” (p. 9).

2. What were some of the warning signs about Josiah that Isabel admits she did not heed? Why did she choose to ignore them? What would you have done if you were presented with similar warning signs in a partner?

3. Throughout Happens Every Day, Gillies compares events and people in her life to plots and characters from famous movies and novels. Why do you think she does this? How does this add to the descriptive quality of the characters and events?

4. Talk about Isabel and Sylvia’s relationship throughout Happens Every Day. How did Isabel handle the transition from Sylvia as her “good friend my own age” (p. 75) to the woman responsible for ending her marriage?

5. Isabel mentions “I remember thinking my life was perfect. It felt so perfect that I thought something was bound to go wrong. Life doesn’t stay this good” (p. 94). Do you feel that everything was really as “perfect” as she made it out to be, or is this hindsight? Were there warning signs on the horizon that her marriage was in trouble?

6. What is the significance of the title Happens Every Day? Who did it come from? What impact did it have on the author? (p. 177)

7. There’s a very pivotal moment in the book between Isabel and a pancake. What did that moment prove to her? Why was it so important for Isabel to have that moment?

8. What was the pet name that Isabel and Josiah had for each other? How did it get started? How does it play a key role in Isabel’s realization that her marriage is truly over?

9. Isabel’s separation and divorce takes place in the small town of Oberlin, Ohio. Do you think the location had a great impact on how she dealt with her divorce? Do you think she would have handled things differently if she were in New York?

10. Isabel ends the novel right after she leaves Oberlin, claiming, “telling you everything we went through after December 17 would fill another book” (p. 254). Would you have liked to learn more about Isabel’s new start? Why do you think she chose to end it where she did and the way she did?

Enhancing Your Book Club

1. Read one of the classic works that Isabel mentions in her memoir: Endurance, The Spoon River Anthology, Emma, etc. Make it the focus of one of your bookclub nights!

2. Make your own “Working It Out Curry” and share some with your bookclub!

3. Isabel tells us what her motto is. Share your own motto with your bookclub and discuss how it’s helped through both the good times and the bad.

Customer Reviews

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Happens Every Day 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
geekymcbooklover More than 1 year ago
You feel like an intruder to one of the most intimate parts of a person's life: their divorce. Its touching in the way that the author can admit that she had a part in the dissolving of her marriage. She doesn't demonize the man who left her and their sons. She just tells it like she experienced it. Honest and beautiful.
Philly13 More than 1 year ago
This book captured my attention from the very first page. It is a riveting story that you feel guilty enjoying so much. I literally finished this book in 24 hours.
Karen-LeBlanc More than 1 year ago
Isabel Gillies chronicles in absorbing detail the unraveling of her "perfect" marriage and life. As she struggles to reconcile the idea of her perfect life to the reality of it, she endures many soul crushing moments but soldiers on at times bravely and at other times with a blind eye to the reality of her situation. The title of the book says it all. Infidelity and divorce happen everyday but when it happens to you, it is a lonely, desperate, isolating experience. Isabel nails the experience dead on.
Patricia57PH More than 1 year ago
at the end I discovered you actually are friends now. What a bust I read this whole book where I too started to dislike the women who doesn't know how to respect another women's family...then after reading without putting down, only to find at the end you and "Sylvia" are best buddies felt like somewhat had just SLAPPED me...I am tearing that page out before I lend it to my friends....
susankaye More than 1 year ago
Isabel says in the beginning "I am not a writer...but I have been told I write good emails". That sets the tone for this warm compelling book....the story unfolds like shared confidences between friends over a glass of wine. It is based on her life experience....great marriage, beautiful home, wonderful husband, good friends. Opps......turns out the husband has the attention span of a gnat and falls in love with Isabels "friend" in the blink of an eye. He and the "friend" both lie and drive her batty...the divorce is all her fault he would have her believe. Liar Liar. Anyone who has been divorced, been left by a faithless man,is going thru a divorce or is a single mother can totally relate to her story. The book is not all pain, it is about moving on even when you just want to crawl up into a ball and fade away. Her family, friends and beautiful boys get her through. Isabels words are so descriptive.....she sets the stage well. For an untrained writer the story is lively, interesting and well paced. Whoever wrote the "OMG he left her" review is obviously either "the other woman" type, a borderline personality, or really young with no life experience. This is a warm witty book...I read it in one sitting and have recommended it to both my siters and my 3 best friends.
knitwit2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think the author wants the reader to feel her outrage over the unfairness of her life. I didn't get that because, in fact, people do divorce everyday and one would hope that there would be more important things on their minds than their perfect new house with designer wallpaper. Not to be unfair - one mention of the WIlliam Morris wallpaper fine - but the page after page reminders of the beautiful house got nausiating. Also many women don't have summer houses on islands in Maine to retreat to where they can lick thier wounds at the yacht club, nor do thier parents have apartments overlooking Central Park in NYC. Gillies experience may have been more universal to the reader if she hadn't seperated herself from the rest of us with her privledge.
verka6811 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For the fans of Law & Order: SVU - Isabel Gillies had a recurring role on the show playing Kathy Stabler. While at a wedding, Gillies reconnects with her childhood friend Josiah (I believe that's a pseudonym), and the two initiate a relationship and eventually get married. Moving around to accommodate Josiah's job as a college professor, the couple eventually winds up in Oberlin, Ohio with their two young boys. Worlds away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, Gillies nevertheless builds a life for herself and her family in the quiet town. They buy and renovate a house, make friends, and Gillies even begins teaching acting at the college. All of a sudden, Josiah announces that he's leaving Isabel and their two sons, and that he just "can't do it" anymore.Reading Happens Every Day was like sneaking a peak at someone's diary; Gillies left out nothing in describing the nitty gritty details of her marriage and subsequent divorce. The result is a heart-wrenching story that made me want to reach out and tell Gillies, "Oh no! Don't do that!", only to realize that I'd probably do the same thing given the situation. In the end though, Gillies' story is one of survival, hope, and happy endings.
mhleigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel and Josiah live in a college town in Ohio, raising their two young sons and teaching classes - he, poetry and she, acting. They purchase their dream house and see their lives moving the in right direction. Suddenly, out of no where as far as Gillies can detect, Josiah announces that he is finished with the marriage. In a flash the couple goes from planning their future to separated, with Josiah immediately engaging in a relationship with a colleague and friend. Gillies tells of how she struggled to understand the turn her life was taking and how to cope with the decisions made by her spouse and the ramifications they have for her and her boys.Quote: "I often credit Paul Simon and Nora Ephron for getting me through my divorce, but right up on top of the list would also have to be the sleeping drug Ambien. I simply could not have done what I did without it. I should write the company a letter. You can't save your life and be exhausted at the same time."I really wanted to like this book more since I am a fan of the author, an actress on Law and Order: SVU. While it was a quick, decent read it wasn't as engaging or deep as it could have been. Instead it just seems to skim the surface of the events leading to the dissolution of Gillies' marriage. In the first few pages Gillies says one of the reason she wrote her story is because friends told her she wrote good emails, and the whole book has that feeling. Like friends chatting, but it doesn't really transcend that level. I would actually be more interested in reading a follow up memoir to find out how the bizarre epilogue comes about. The very short afterword seems to negate half the feelings we were left with near the books' end. As the book closes, Gillies says she will never speak to the other woman again, in the paragraph of epilogue Gillies sings the woman's praises and says how much she likes her. In the book she holds out hope for her marriage long after her husband checks out, completely crushed about losing the love of her life, in the epilogue she thanks the actual love of her life, her second husband. It's not that I'm not glad to hear she found happiness so quickly, but the fast mentions leave me hoping for a sequel to hear how all these changes came about. I think it could be more interesting than the original.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just a terrific book. That she can write so beautifully and naturally and evocatively about her husband suddenly deciding to leave her with two small children, so soon after it happened, is amazing - and that she was able to do it with so much balance and actual kindness to her ex-husband, without sacrificing the emotional pain she went through. Fascinating portrayal of what seems to be quite an insular and claustrophobic academic faculty environment at Oberlin.
suefernandez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am so envious, which is ridiculous given the nature of this book, that the author was able to put this out as her first book. Watching her marriage fall apart, but realizing, as she says...if someone really wants to go, all you can do is watch them leave. She has humor, even during the worst of it.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿I¿m not a writer but I have been told I write good emails, which has led me to¿tell this story.¿ Isabel Gillies is correct, she is not a writer, and It Happens Every Day is pieced together like a long email¿conversationally. Her style is an effective illusion of girl talk that allows her to express the disappointment she felt while her marriage to a college poetry professor collapsed. Her story of betrayal is a nightmare for any wife, and many pages are read in absolute dread of the known outcome. After reading her memoir, one feels they know Gillies, and upon consideration she seems like a real pain in the ass. One instance she has her weeping for about a half an hour in front of her children and a babysitter because her husband, Josiah, hadn¿t made dinner plans to commemorate their first night in a new town. She also makes comments like this, ¿Because I was on the cover of Seventeen magazine when I was fourteen and I am an actress, I depend on the fact that, objectively, I am good looking. Tall, blond hair, odd looks but undeniably attractive.¿ The statement is irritating on many levels beginning with the fact that the second sentence simply isn¿t one. It could also be argued that Gillies repeatedly threw an attractive colleague at her husband as some sort of bizarre test which sadly he fails.But I can¿t help but like Gillies and every point one can make against Gillies only serves to make her more real. ¿Hiding is the last thing I do. I have no secrets,¿ she explains. Her candidness serves her well. Her take though admittedly one-sided is moving, and she tells it with remarkable grace.
MissWoodhouse1816 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Real, raw, and emotional, Gillies takes her readers on a tour of her former marriage. Though she allows the reader into her innermost thoughts, Gillies manages to tell her tale without sounding whiny or pitiful. I finished this book amazed at her strength, her honesty, and her ability to keep her shattered marriage from destroying her life. Beautiful prose, heartbreaking story, wonderful book.
Bridget770 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The other reviews give good overviews of the story: woman who has incredible romance with her husband and then loses him to an affair. Inherently, this story is self-absorbed; its a memior about a heart-wrenching, life-changing event. I expected that, but I found it difficult to sympathize with Gillies, even though her situation was terrible. The book is a quick read and is very conversational. It's probably a good beach read.
jopearson56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I heard this book reviewd on NPR and it sounds like a fast and charming read. It was, both, but not as good as I expected from the review. It is the story of Isabel Gillies marriage to and eventual divorce from Josiah, the sadness and struggles that happen when a marriage that you believe to be good and strong and loving suddenly is discovered to be none of these things, the heartbreak when your husband, whom you love with all your heart, suddenly insists he cannot live with you any longer and it turns out he is having an affair with a new professor whom you have befriended and like very much. The general unfairness of life when you've gotten to be just where you want, have two young children, and things suddenly and unexpectedly fall apart.
stephaniechase on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The perfect kind of memoir: casually told, as if among friends; illuminating without falling into the too-much-information category; heartbreakingly real. I felt Gillies' desperation, sadness, anger, and frustration and read the book in a day.
Florinda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Gillies never saw the end of her marriage coming, although she admits that she may have ignored some potential danger signs, such as the knowledge that her husband Josiah had left his first wife - who was pregnant with their child - for someone else (not Isabel). And even when she was forced to see it - when Josiah told her directly, more than once, that he couldn¿t be in their marriage anymore - she made every effort to avoid looking. But eventually one has to see what¿s really there - and what¿s on its way out.Gillies is frank, forward, and not always particularly self-flattering in her depiction of this extremely difficult time. Happens Every Day was a painful, too-close-for-comfort read for me, because so much of what she describes about the last few months of her first marriage is shockingly similar to what happened in my own (although mine dragged it out a whole lot longer). My first marriage ended nearly a decade ago and I¿ve processed it all by now, but there are things about that breakup that I¿ll never forget, and the emotions associated with that time can still be stirred up when I¿m exposed to reminders. A few particulars about Isabel and Josiah¿s situation were especially, and uncomfortably, familiar. I had the sense that at times Isabel was fighting to stay married, period, more than trying to stay married to Josiah specifically; and despite Josiah¿s repeated declarations that he ¿couldn¿t do this anymore¿ and efforts to avoid being around Isabel whenever possible, it took him a while to get around to actually leaving. But he did leave, although I don¿t believe that the new faculty member was the only reason why. Having been there myself has not changed my belief that relationships can¿t be broken up by a third party unless they were shaky to begin with. However, I do believe that the third party can be a catalyst that forces one or both members of a couple to see that they really are shaky. These days, very few people are likely to ask me how my first marriage ended, but should it happen, I¿m inclined to give them a copy of Happens Every Day - it would give them the framework, and I¿d just have to fill in the differences and details. Sadly, it does happen every day.
callmejacx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This true story looks into the mind and heart of a woman who is told that the marriage she had dreamed of and the man that she loves is over. She allows us in her thoughts and is opening honest telling her story. The first few pages made me feel a connection with her. She had my attention and was telling me everything that was on her mind. She needed a friend that she could trust to sit back and just listen to her.What she went through does happen every day, but it happens differently for everyone. I didn't always agree on her way of handling things. I didn't agree of her wanting to hold on to something that was already lost, but then again I am not her. She gave permission to others to deal with it their own way. She admitted that she wasn't perfect, she could have done things better, and tried harder, but in the end would that have made a difference.It was a good read but I wouldn't say it was a "must read".
SuzeJones58 More than 1 year ago
My reaction... Insightful, well-written, but still a very easy read. A lot of honesty - the kind that comes with personal growth. Read it. I recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
xine78 More than 1 year ago
I just bought this without really looking, so I didn't realize it was a memoir until a couple pages in. While some say her writing style is disjointed, I loved it because she writes how I think. So it made me feel like I was just talking to a friend and hearing about her situation.
Xine13 More than 1 year ago
I stumbled upon this book by getting the advertisement as a book mark from Barnes and Noble. I bought and totally identified with it, since I was going through similar situations of my own. The story is told like you're listening to a friend. I really connected with this book. Give it a shot. I can't wait to read her new book now as well! christine
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Listened via audiobook on my way to and from work. Thank goodness I was in the car by myself because like a horror movie I was talking to Isabel throughout the book like she was a girlfriend on the phone in the middle of an intense friend to friend therapy session. An amazing story, true to the bone, filled with heartache and triumph. It was so great to start knowing that disaster was going to lurk around the corner, but to also hear the good times that were once cherished by this woman. She tried so hard to hold him close and keep things from unraveling. Now I know this is a true story, so it is hard to suggest the author to take the story in a different direction or to change things about the characters, because in the end it really happened to this family. BUT if I was her friend I would have encouraged her to do a little more confronting of the other woman, it was obvious that this relationship was the cause of the distance between them. A book that I have literally passed onto my mom and would encourage everyone to both read or listen to this great story. Read by Isabel Gillies herself gave me the sense of feeling every emotion to the core.
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