|Photo: Jason McDonald
University, has snared a tenured poetry job in
the English department of Oberlin College. By the next fall, they have settled
in with their two boys, ages 1 and 3. They renovate a big 1877 brick house on Elm Street that they
nickname “Bricky,” and Gillies starts her own job as an adjunct professor of acting. But five weeks after moving
into their dream home, her husband dumps her for a married female professor who comes to Oberlin to teach 18th-century English
literature. Gillies, who had befriended the woman, is dumfounded. The blood-letting begins.
Books We Like
NPR.org; March 17, 2009
by Maureen Corrigan
I swear to you, this really happened:
Two weeks ago, I was sitting around on a Saturday night, just me and the dog. I didn't feel like reading any of the books
I was supposed to be reading, so I began rooting through my pile of new review books. One slim volume caught my eye, initially,
because of its title: Happens Every Day
Happens Every Day
Acclaimed breakup memoir a love letter to Oberlin
The Chronicle-Telegram; March 29, 2009
OBERLIN — A newly published memoir by Isabel Gillies, who plays the wife of lead Detective Elliot
Stabler on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” is a love poem to Oberlin — in the saddest
of ways. You can feel her delight as Gillies — a tall, blond, New York City WASP who once graced the cover of Seventeen
magazine and dated Mick Jagger — moves to Oberlin in 2004. Her handsome, brilliant husband, who previously taught at
There’s weeping, cajoling,
spying and attempts to confirm the presumed affair. Gillies confronts her competition — whom she describes alternately
as similar to Audrey Hepburn, Winona Rider or Natalie Portman. After returning home, she discovers her husband has learned
about the confrontation and is furious. The entire breakup — from start to finish — occurs between October and
December, at the time the nation was consumed with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their own household was torn apart,
Gillies writes, but “(t)his mess we had made ourselves.” Gillies’ “Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True
Story” was published Tuesday by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc. The tale — which uses aliases
for her ex and the professor he eventually married — is a featured selection at 7,000 Starbucks nationwide. Gillies,
39, calls her book a story of “loving your life even when it’s falling apart.”
Getting good reviews
-O, The Oprah Magazine called Gillies’ book “a smart, rueful memoir of love, betrayal, and survival.”
-David Auburn, Pulitzer Prize-wining author of “Proof,” wrote that Gillies “tells the story of the breakup
of her ‘perfect’ marriage with astonishing honesty, sharp humor, and not a shred of self-pity. This is a memoir
that reads like a gripping mystery and a moving coming-of-age tale.”
-Library Journal called the book “the
nonfiction equivalent of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn … Highly recommended.”
Gillies was featured Wednesday
on “The Today Show.”
-Vogue featured her writing in the Up Front feature in its February issue and Glamour
called her book a “must read for March.”
-Gossipy, direct and full of mentions of Lorain County, the 261 pages can be devoured in
‘Taking the Reader with Me’
In a telephone interview with The Chronicle-Telegram, Gillies said
her sudden breakup was crushing, and she felt compelled to write about it. She said she has already gotten feedback from women
whose husbands have left them, and she hopes they can find solace in the book. “It’s easy to be taken under by
it,” Gillies said. All the hoopla about the book is “a little overwhelming,” she said. Any kind of artistic
process is cathartic, but that’s not why she wrote the memoir, she said. Instead, it was probably her friends who urged
her on, saying she wrote great e-mails and the topic was compelling. She began writing at the New York Society Library and
discovered she liked doing it. “It kind of reads like a whodunit,” she said. “I’m trying to figure
out what happened, and I’m taking the reader with me.” While she has many fond memories of Oberlin, she said it
was important to leave as soon as possible following the breakup. “I found the anger was really paralyzing,” she
said. But Gillies has moved on, and she seems delighted with where life has taken her. Since October 2007, she has been married
to Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Lattman, whom she describes in the book as “the love of my life.” They are
raising her two sons and his daughter, and Gillies is working on another book. The key to happiness is “getting with
the program about what’s going on with your life,” she said. “If your kids are healthy and you are healthy
and things are all good, then it’s greedy to do anything else than try to stay positive about where you are,”
'Happens Every Day' memoir
puts Oberlin on the infidelity map
Cleveland.com; March 29, 2009
Five years ago, when Manhattan
actress Isabel Gillies landed in Oberlin, she hit upon selling $10 bunches of wildflowers at the farmers market as a way to
meet people and introduce herself.
She has everyone's attention now.
"Happens Every Day" is Gillies' new memoir about
living in one of Oberlin's grandest brick homes, married to the handsomest professor - "He was Heathcliff with an earring"
- only to have him unceremoniously dump her and their toddler sons for the new instructor in 18th-century English literature.
Starbucks has singled out Gillies' book to promote in its 7,000 stores, praising it as a story about "loving your life
even when it's falling apart." Georgetown
University critic Maureen Corrigan gave it a rave on National Public Radio, saying first she,
then her husband, consumed it in a single sitting.
And Gillies, who plays a small recurring part on "Law and Order: Special
Victims Unit" as Lt. Stabler's wife, scored four coveted minutes of national airtime Wednesday on the "Today" show, where
she described her writing debut, started on her BlackBerry.
"Suddenly, it's the talk of the town," said Tom Oates, assistant
manager of the Oberlin College bookstore. "They're selling very quickly."
Gillies, 39, has written a chatty, slightly
goofy roman Ã clef, with the keys left under the mat for pretty much anyone living in Oberlin. She gives her ex-husband
the name of Josiah Robinson on these pages, gushing that he "was like Indiana Jones. I always imagined that his students (male
and female) might write 'I love you' on their eyelids and bat them at him during his class."
He is, in actuality, Oberlin's
poetry professor, DeSales Harrison. Asked if he had read "Happens Every Day," in which he berates Gillies for a mess of Cheerios
left under their boys' car seats, Harrison politely and promptly e-mailed, "I would love to help you with your story,
but I have found that the best policy is to refrain from commenting. I hope you understand."
Gillies, who at age 14 posed
on the cover of Seventeen magazine and says she twice dated Mick Jagger, describes herself, her ex and his new wife as all
"I always felt so insecure out there because I felt like the blond actress chick who was dragged along to
the party by my smarty-pants husband," she said in a telephone interview from Manhattan. "But I was pretty. And I could be funny. . . And then I married
a very, very smart person -- and I was surrounded by people with all these advanced degrees so I'd fall into this blond shtick."
Little DeSales and young Isabel sailed together as children near their families' summer homes in Maine; their adult romance ignited at his sister's wedding. They
married, and moved to Oberlin with two cherubic, tow-headed boys, in time for Gillies to campaign for John Kerry.
family sparked interest when it spent more than $300,000 for a stately house on Elm Street, a steal to the couple -- "we were
both pretty big WASPs" -- but much more money than college regulars could remember a new English professor affording.
didn't just stay in our cushy, too expensive New York life with our friends, we went out like Earnest Shackleton on the Endurance
and forged new territory," Gillies writes of moving to Ohio. "I was proud of us."
She did weep, however, because her sons seemed
doomed to becoming Midwesterners, but perked up when she met the newly hired English instructor, "Sylvia" in print, but professor
Laura Baudot in person.
"She wore all sorts of great designer clothes, which again I appreciated," Gillies writes. "In
New York everybody looks great and is well dressed, but seeing someone
in Ohio wearing Marc Jacobs is like spotting an owl in Central Park. Rare."
Gillies writes that her new buddy came up with the title of her memoir. On page 177, the author
describes fearfully whispering her disbelief that a man might abandon his perfect little sons. "And then in her half-French
accent Sylvia said the most dumbfounding thing, 'It happens every day.' "
No other woman reacted so coldly, Gillies writes.
Baudot did not respond to requests for her side of the story.
Eventually, Baudot and Harrison married. Gillies moved back
and married a Wall Street Journal reporter. The boys are now age 7 and 4. Their mother said she doesn't expect them to read
"Happens Every Day" now, but that openness is one of her signature traits.
"I've put my emotions, raw, out there, for
national television," Gillies said. "I don't think this is so different. I don't think any one would bat an eye if I wrote
She is not, however, planning a reading in Oberlin.
Idyllic marriage is torn
Former 'Law & Order' actress details its painful collapse in Oberlin setting
By Scott Eyman
Newspapers; May 10, 2009
Isabel Gillies walked away from her job as an actress on Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit to move to Oberlin and be a faculty wife.
Her husband was a poetry professor, they had two sons, and she was crazy
in love with her family and the idea of raising her kids in a stress-free environment.
Gillies and her husband bought a
house, installed new appliances and a new heating system. She didn't miss New York, and loved her new home, for Oberlin has a vibe all its own.
It's farmland, with plenty of the spectacular cloud formations of the Midwest,
what the natives call ''God light,'' when the sun streams through, providing some spectacular lighting effects.
there are the people. ''Oberlin students are named Zack or Violet,'' Gillies writes. ''They know transgendered people and
how to address them, never making a mistake. I am forever getting confused on that account. Sometimes it is very hard to tell
what gender these kids are, and I supposed that is the point.''
Gillies and her husband fit right in. Once, a few generations
ago, their respective families had some money, but now they're down to their last Maine vacation house. They know fine things, but don't have a lot
A month after establishing an idyllic existence, Gillies' husband dumps his family for a new member of the faculty,
a professor of 18th-century English literature. The Other Woman — Gillies calls her Sylvia and her husband Josiah, even
though those aren't their names, and a few minutes on Google will turn up the real ones — has looks somewhere between
Audrey Hepburn and Winona Ryder, and a vaguely French accent. She's diametrically opposite Gillies, who is blond and Nordic.
''Happens every day,'' is what the other woman tells Gillies when the soon-to-be ex-wife asks how this could be happening
to her. True, but it doesn't happen every day to Isabel Gillies, and Happens Every Day is her story of her marriage and unwanted
Gillies' book got me thinking about a batch of divorces I've been in proximity to the last several years. (Have
you noticed that divorces, like death, often come in bunches?) They all began with affairs that nobody would admit existed;
none of the betrayed spouses ever saw it coming; all went through emotional ravages, including a period of bouncing-off-the-walls
craziness, accompanied by the well-known divorce weight-loss program.
Oh, one other thing: The adulterous spouse always
tries to justify his or her behavior, which only proves that very few people will cop to being the incompetent architects
of their own life.
In the end, everybody survives, but at a cost I can only imagine, and there tends to be a certain residual
bitterness at the bottom of the cup.
Gillies' experience was very similar. She develops an interest in reality TV and
a heretofore unexpected sympathy for Jennifer Aniston. And she cunningly compares her ravaged life with two small children
to the life of people in the movies who are having the same experience.
''In the movies, when husbands or wives suddenly
announce that they are leaving the marriage, life seems to stop suddenly to make room . . . The jilted woman or man has endless
time to wallow in bed for days crying or drinking. That actress never gets out of her nightgown, except to take long meaningful
walks through Central Park. I needed to be in that movie.''
So what makes Happens Every Day worth
Gillies is an actress by profession, and actors are trained to be specific, so she's got a great eye. She's also
a good writer:
''I went upstairs to where the boys were sleeping in their rooms and sat in the hallway equidistant between
them. I took in a long steady deep breath and when I couldn't take in any more, I held it. I think I held my breath for the
next two months.''
Gillies book is not a diatribe, and only occasionally a cri de couer. Mainly, it's a surgical reconstruction
of her marriage's sudden collapse, and it's utterly honest and painful. Despite the fact that her predominant state throughout
the book is pain, Gillies is pretty good company, mainly because she's got a good sense of humor, although not about Sylvia.
It's a tart book, a universal book, which is to say completely human, and eminently worth reading for both men and women.
A Must-Read and its Lesson
in Letting Go
Columbia Catholic Examiner;
May 24, 2009
Last week, I finished a book, and have not been able to stop thinking about it. The title is Happens Every Day,
and to be honest, not since devouring a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever in one sitting when I was thirteen years old have
I been so consumed with a book as I have with Isabel Gillies’ memoir about the disintegration of her marriage.
story is transfixing from the start. She describes falling in love with her husband, a handsome, intense academic whom
she met when they were both children spending their summers in Maine. They fall in love, get married, and then Gillies leaves her acting
job in the role of Detective Stabler’s wife on Law & Order SVU to move to Ohio when her husband gets a teaching position as a poetry professor
at Oberlin College. From the outside, Gillies is a woman who appears to have it all: She’s
beautiful, (Gillies was a Seventeen Magazine cover girl and went out with Mick Jagger a few times) madly in love with her
husband, has two little boys whom she adores and has recently moved into her dream house which she lovingly decorates with
William Morris wallpaper and builds a window seat in the kitchen. Everything seems to be going “according to plan,”
that is, until her husband’s English department hires a new literature professor, a woman described as part Winona Ryder
part Audrey Hepburn. Within one month, her husband has fallen head over heels in love for this colleague. Happens
Every Day is Isabel Gillies’ brutally honest account of how it all unfolded.
The author is not a writer
in the traditional sense, but she definitely has the gift of conversation in spades, and that’s what this book is. Reading
it feels like an intimate conversation with a close friend who is confiding in you about her confusion, sadness, anxiety and
heartbreak. As her marriage is crumbling, the author tries desperately to make her husband NOT leave her. She
makes up excuses to see him at the office, adjusts her daily routine so as to “accidently” run into him, and cajoles
him into spending more time with her. It’s no use, and painful to read, as her husband is already emotionally
Many people; consciously or unconsciously have a plan of how life is supposed to turn out. The
author is no exception, and in part, this fuels her initial resistance to letting go. Without question, experiencing
her husband leaving her for another woman was not part of the plan. However, once she does let go, she joyfully makes
the discovery that God has another, better plan up His sleeve. For Catholics, St. Francis personifies the grace of being
able to let go. He fully embraced a spirit of detachment in the belief that in this way, he was freer to devote himself
entirely to God. In the struggle to let go, we must remember the words of Jesus that with God all things are possible.
Like Gillies, there comes a time in everyone’s life when we are faced with the challenge of letting go. This is
so difficult, but we have to ask ourselves, “What am I holding onto that is holding me back and perhaps keeping me from
realizing God’s true plan for my life?”
Meeting the challenge to let go ultimately opens
the way for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Anyone struggling with this can find inspiration in Gillies’
tale. Resolving to “pull up her socks,” take the high road and just put one foot in front of the other,
she emerges on the other side, stronger, more at peace and with her spirit, her dignity and her sense of humor fully intact.
And like St. Francis, she is also more free.
Chris Meloni’s fake SVU wife gets real-life revenge
Time Out Kids New York; June 5, 2009
Elliot Stabler’s on-again, off-again relationship with his wife, Kathy, on SVU is rocky? It’s a cakewalk
compared with that actress’s real-life first marriage. After playing the dutiful wife both onscreen and off for a number
of years, native New Yorker Isabel Gillies packed up her two young sons and left a promising acting career to follow her husband,
professor DeSales Harrison, to Oberlin. A few months later, he dumped her, and she was forced to pick up the pieces of her
life. This year, she got even: She published the memoir Happens Every Day about the experience, and it hit the New
York Times bestseller list. Want to know what makes her revenge even sweeter? She met another divorcee, they fell in
love and now live together with their blended family. Time Out Kids recently interviewed the actor-cum-author about single parenting in the city, her career plans and why her ex shouldn’t stop worrying…yet.
Memoirs: The other sides
of the story
When you’re the heel in someone else’s
uplifting life tale
By Maureen Callahan
New York Post December 6, 2009
To be written
about in the memoir of another — to become a fully animated character living in another person’s narrative, rendered
in a possibly unrecognizable light — is perhaps one of the most surreal experiences ever, and one curiously unexamined.
What of these supporting players, who’ve made the memoirist’s work possible, often without prior consent? What
becomes of their lives, once private, now irrevocably public? How does one move about in the world if they’ve been revealed
— or, to be fair, depicted — as a drunk, a cheater, a cuckold, a bad parent, a sexual fetishist, in a highly publicized
book sitting in the window at Barnes & Noble?
“In some sense, it feels so strange and like
nothing at all,” says DeSales Harrison. “You wake up and you feel like someone’s painted you blue, and everyone
Harrison is a poetry professor at Oberlin. Since March, however, he has been widely known as
the ex-husband of “Law & Order” actress Isabel Gillies, who depicted Harrison as a longstanding
amoral adulterer in her memoir “Happens Every Day.” Harrison did not see the book before publication,
which was heralded with a piece in Vogue and shelf space at Starbucks. Though Gillies changed both Harrison’s
name and that of the other woman (they are now married), he felt these were “minor attempts” at preserving his
Until now, he says, “my policy and my wife’s has been to do and say nothing. But
there’s something painful about playing back a voicemail from a complete stranger saying, ‘Professor Harrison,
you’re an assh - - -!’”
He read the book, he says, “in short bursts, until I
couldn’t take it anymore, and then all at once, masochistically.” His colleagues have read the book, as has his
family, who “were appalled” and refer to it as “unnecessary violence.” He is concerned about the impact
the book will have on his and Gillies’ children.
“But if the insides [of the marriage] Isabel
described were close to what I experienced, I would’ve felt more exposed,” Harrison says.
He slips and refers to the memoir as a novel before correcting himself. “I feel weirdly re-cast in a situation that
doesn’t resemble the complexity I would have described. But people — especially complete strangers — treat
you as though you are not even yourself, but this version of someone’s imagination.”
at least, Harrison is unusual: He is a literary antagonist who has read the entire screed against him.
Andre Agassi’s father, depicted in Agassi’s new memoir “Open” as a tyrant and a bully, has said he
will not read the book. Jack Canfield, author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and father of memoirist Oran, who
chronicled his drug addiction in “Long Past Stopping,” declined The Post’s request for comment, as did Michael
Cooper, the unnamed ex-husband who made Liz Gilbert so miserable in her memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love.” (Cooper is
currently working on a rebuttal memoir — an emergent subgenre — called “Displaced.” It chronicles
his spiritual journey of self-discovery through the Middle East.)
|Photo by Robert Caplin
How Divorce Lost Its
New York Times (edit only Isabel Gillies content;
you may read full article here); June 17, 2011
That does not necessarily make divorced motherhood any easier.
an enormous amount of energy making everything friendly and loving with my ex and his wife,” said Isabel Gillies, an
actress who is following up her divorce memoir, “Happens Every Day,” with a book about divorce’s aftermath,
“A Year and Six Seconds.” When her ex-husband visits their children in Manhattan from Ohio, he and his wife stay in Ms. Gillies’s apartment and she moves
out. “It’s a bit more seamless than it was in the ’70s,” she said. “Instead of the kids back
and forthing, we’re the ones who maneuver.”
Enter the latchkey moms.