One minute Elizabeth Crane and her husband of fifteen years are fixing up their old house in Upstate New York, finally setting down roots after stints in Chicago, Texas, and Brooklyn, when his unexpected admission—I’m not happy—changes everything.
By all laws of literary physics, this memoir shouldn’t work at all. There is very little story, almost no conflict, not many scenes played out as actual scenes and no dialogue that actually appears in quotation marks. At the end of the book, everyone is essentially the same as they were at the beginning. No one has learned a lesson or become a better person. It’s thrilling ... We are accustomed to reading about terrible divorces. You could fill an entire bookstore with memoirs containing scenes of dishes thrown across rooms, $500-an-hour lawyers, psychologically ravaged children and surgically enhanced replacement wives. What is less familiar, at least on the page, are stories of marriages that die from no known cause. As such, This Story Will Change is not so much a memoir about a divorce as a case study of one marriage and what killed it. It’s not a matter of who’s guilty, but what caused the marriage to end seemingly before its time. The wife may be baffled, but she’s full of theories about what went wrong and why.
Crane, a novelist and short story writer, attempted to write her way out of grief, examining her marriage in granular detail. So granular that it is difficult at times not to scream while reading it, sometimes in frustration (she openly participates in her own denial) and sometimes in exquisite recognition ... In that way it reflects both marriage itself and the experience of listening to anyone talk about their own, past or present.
Crane writes in the third person, creating emotional distance as though she can objectively describe the dissolution of her own marriage. This technique makes the memoir read more like a novel, akin to Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation with short, punchy chapters and unflinching self-analysis ... But the occasional shift into first person jars the reader into recalling that this intimate recollection is actually the author's own experience.