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Something Might Happen
The Something Might Happen
in the title of Julie Myersons bleak, haunting not-quite-whodunit seems at first
already to have happened: a woman named Lennie has been grotesquely murdered in a seaside
village in Suffolk and the police have been called in.
Through the eyes of Lennies best friend Tess, we learn about the murders effect on the town and on Tess, Tesss marriage and her children. This book is not so much about this particular murderthe crime is never solved and we soon stop caring whodunitas about the effect that remorseless violence in a random universe has upon everyone, struggling to find meaning in the inexplicable and provide succor to the inconsolable.
Tess is a mother of four, a working osteopath and a wife struggling to remain close to her husband Mick while railing against the enforced domesticity that she finds stifling. Further complicating her life are her continuing friendship with Lennies husband Alex, a former boyfriend, and her attraction to Ted Lacey, a young police-liaison officer who specializes in helping the families of crime victims. As the aftereffects of the murder relentlessly eat away at the town and its inhabitants, the "something might happen" to worry about is Tesss self-destruction.
Myersons proseTesss voice, in other wordsis spare, elegant, and as bleak as the landscape it describes. Only in its descriptions of the commonplaces of family domesticity does it warm up, and its insights into Tesss relationship with her infant daughter are superb:
Livvys lying on her mat on the floor, gazing at the back of the sofa. I kick off my shoes, pull her onto my lap. Kiss her four times on the soft, wide moon of her foreheadfour fast kisses to make her laugh.
She does. She squeaks.
I hold her away from me, hold her up under her sweet fat arms, and then zoom her back for another four kisses. Up and in, up and back. She does her cartoon giggle.
One aspect of the writing, however, creates a problem that distances the reader greatly from the other people in this story. She writes without using quotation marks, presenting even extended conversations as though they were diary entries:
The thing about Mick is, he thinks its clever not to rise to things.
Im not trying to hide anything from you
Thats what I tell him, but he shrugs.
I know, Tess. I dont think you are. It still doesnt mean I need to know.
Its your life, he says when I dont reply to this. Your life, your time.
No, I say as carefully as I can. Dont you see how maddening it is when you say that? Its not. Its our time.
A little of this goes a long way.
Its more than a stylistic trick; its a killer. It puts everything in
Tesss voice, with the result that none of the other characters comes even remotely
alive. The three men Tess is involved withher husband, Lennies widower Alex,
and the empathetic policeman Laceyare indistinguishable, and since shes
apparently falling out of love with one of them while falling in love with another (and
comes close to sleeping with all three) it's a severe limitation for these
characters to be undeveloped. Without some insight into the other principal players,
Tesss grief-stricken ruminations become hermetic, self-referential, and ultimately
When that ominous "something might happen" happens again, late in the book, it is unexpected, tragic, and utterly meaningless--one more random act in a ruthlessly cruel world. This time, however, its not a murder but an accident, an accident to which Tess has possibly contributed by taking her eye off the ball "for that split secondwhich is all it takes to lose just about everything you care about."
That's how the book leaves Tess, grappling not only with grief but with the realization that sorrows do indeed come not single spies but in battalion. There is no consoling coda, no earnest, uplifting message about getting on with ones life, no practical resolve to keep it together for the sake of the children. Something Might Happen is a literate and elegiac rendering of the less elegant "shit happens," but the conclusion is equally bleak. The book ends as Tess contemplates the lonely marshes around her village:
And then, despite the crackle of insects in the gorse, the cry of the bittern, the brown gleam of the saltings, the eerie, mauve light that creeps in just before rain, you shiver. Becausesmelling the coltsfoot coming off the dunes, feeling the sharp breeze that lifts your hairyou sense the truth. That theres no one at all out there to save you, should something happen.
- Kendal Dodge Butler