Happens Every Day - Memoir - Isabel Gillies

6-12-09  - book ReviewStarbucks and Borders sell exactly the same things - just in different proportions.  I bought this memoir at Starbucks, one of my bookstores.  I enjoy writing to authors of books I read and the following is a letter to this author.

I finished reading your memoir last week and have had some time to think it over.  It reads like a sinewy case study from the Havard Business School.  You have laid out the facts of your case and I get to try to  figure out what really happened, the subtext, the deeper unwritten dynamics at work in the dissolution of your marriage to Josiah (self-centered prick! - just kidding)  Your story opens with the, hubby-assembled, wall of photos and herein lies the key to the mismatch.  We fool ourselves regularly as a society into believing that we are not intensely hierarchical, that we are democratic, “all men are created equal”, meritocracy, blah, blah, but alas, we are hard-wired for a vicious, brutal, always cruel sorting that was feebly expressed by the French nobility prior to the French Revolution and less feebly entertained by Eastern Seabord  (includes southern states) American WASPs.

Although the generation shared by you and your husband manifests outward signs of the spirit of equality: you were summer neighbors in Maine, you two shared excellent private schools, Josiah was a crew jock (how upper crust can a type “A” male get!) and you both had glamorous careers, one doesn’t have to go far back on Josiah’s side to see his “Lynyrd Skynrd” relatives as you call them.  You were perhaps thinking “Deliverance” but being diplomatic.  Your family traces its upper middle-upper class credentials back to the turn of the twentieth century.  Your mother had an “aristocratic upbringing” your father attended Choate, a WASP enclave and Ivy League feeder school.

Your roots are higher on the society food chain by any measure, than those of Josiah.  Due to his upbringing in the scalding cauldron of east coast WASP gunmanship, he knew he was / is your social inferior and as you and he both know, no amount of brilliant poetry or young life altering teaching experience will erase or diminish this cruel arithmetic of generational class dominance.  That you can so carefully describe it, speaks to your acceptance of its rules ie although you may have submitted to bearing Josiah’s children and to following him on his career travels, you knew you had his ass kicked socially.  Was it really a “miracle” that your child was admitted to the tony nursery school, no.  It was a natural benefit of your easily demonstrable social heft.

Josiah felt intimidated by you even though his behavior would seem bossy and dominant to most.  When that mink Sylvia showed up with her pheromone cloud and her more humble origins and her admiration for his status as a teacher, Josiah sensed an escape route from a future as the husband of a Streep-scale movie queen or, given your patrician roots - a Hepburn.

You can look at his fear, his marriage exit, as a validation of your incipient resonance an an American actress.  You have written this story as if you were the sorrier of the two of you.  That he is the hot, young stud-scholar-jock who has, without a thinking past his organ (Jacobsons), abandoned his young family.  I don’t doubt anything you have written or that your experience was shocking, heartbreaking and very dismal but you have given us barely enough back-story to peel the infinite onion that is human love, to see that you are the more dominant and powerful of the two of you.

I wonder if your book has affected his academic career?  I’ll bet your current husband grew up on the West Coast, another country socially than the East.  I have a few tales from my Harvard experience of briliance not being able to trump multi-generational, family social clout.  It is a very interesting book.  Thank you for your superb, thought-provoking story.  I like to think you wrote it just for me, Joe Reader, thus this note.