Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey, Reviewed


What happens after the end of the affair?

By Monica Heisey
4th Estate

YOU’VE heard about Happily Ever After, but have you ever wondered what happened to Cinderella and the prince after she had enough of him leaving his rolled-up socks in surprise places all over the castle, or when Snow White’s husband finally put his foot down after having to share his bride with seven diminutive coal miners?

Sometimes even the most magical relationships run their course. It’s no one’s fault, there are no big arguments or betrayals, they just, sort of, fizzle out. Really Good, Actually, follows Maggie as she navigates life after divorce, figuring out what went wrong, how to survive as a single woman after being with her husband for her entire adult existence and exploring whether the rest of her life needs a drastic upheaval as well.

Set in Toronto, Really Good, Actually is not exactly a fairy-tale for the ages. Although Maggie has her three best friends to act as helpful and supportive godmother stand-ins, she risks alienating them with her extended self-absorbency.

Her family lives far enough away from the city not to have much of a steady presence in her life, bar birthdays and Christmas, she is realising her job in a university English department isn’t as fulfilling as she assumed it was when she was busy being distracted by her marriage break-down, and her tentative re-emergence into the dating pool isn’t as much as a breeze as she thought it would be.

One reason being, things have changed since she last explored potential romantic entanglements. She met her husband in college, they married young and the marriage was over before her 30th birthday; even in that short space of time, technology advanced and dating apps multiplied, so now it’s about finding one that will suit her complicated expectations.

Really Good, Actually is definitely geared towards the millennial market, who have globally found themselves in precarious situations with (lack of) home ownership, long-term career prospects and lingering misgivings about bringing into children into a world that is growing ever more hostile towards them.

Many readers will identify with Maggie’s refusal to move on with her life or think carefully about the future, choosing instead to obsess over her relationship breakdown, “quietly quit” her job and abandon her chosen profession, and simmer in the moment. It’s like carpe diem for listless procrastinators.

While Maggie is busy wallowing in her break-up grief, her friends are growing ever further from her, while they hit milestones in their own lives. When she has to move out of the apartment that she shared with her ex, into a basement studio in her boss’s house, the change of scenery doesn’t as much help jolt a little motivation into her, but isolate her even more from those who love her.

Monica Heisey

That isn’t to say she isn’t indulging in self-destructive behaviour while she idles away her time. Droll passages of her Google searches pepper through the chapters, as well as increasingly unhinged email and text correspondence with her estranged husband and managers of fast-food outlet’s social media.

She finds the time to explore the bi-sexuality that had been put on the table since her marriage, which results in a string of go-nowhere one-night-stands, and when she does begin to date someone more seriously, she finds excuse after excuse either to jump into things too fast or to suddenly pull away.

It’s only when she begins therapy that she can process her very understandable relationship bereavement and feelings of being stuck at a standstill, that her fortunes begin to change, in small but significant ways. Like author Heisey, who drew from her own experiences as a 28-year-old divorcée, Maggie starts to figure out how to stand on her own two feet, alone.

Really Good, Actually is funny and sincere, a rite-of-passage novel that spans about a year of a lost young person’s life. It’s an honest portrayal of the downward spiral of a not entirely likeable protagonist, whose poor decisions are rife for producing inward groans as well as some laugh out loud moments. Observant and witty, Really Good, Actually, is really good.

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