Title: The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel
Author: Maddie Dawson
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Annabelle McKay and her husband Grant have been married for thirty years, and for almost all that time, they have been living in the shadow of one “thing”, something that happened long ago that they’ve made a pact never to mention again. Annabelle begins to realize how much of a toll that pact has made on their marriage, as she contemplates whether she’s really in love with Grant and her certainty that he still blames her for what happened.
It was the cover that first attracted me to Maddie Dawson’s The Stuff That Never Happened. As superficial as that is, I’m more likely to pick up a book if I love the cover than if I don’t. With The Stuff That Never Happened, the cover was immediately reminiscent of Allison Winn Scotch and Julie Buxbaum, so I wondered if Dawson’s ability to tell a story was similar. I’m thrilled to say it is. Maddie Dawson has that rare gift of taking a seemingly ordinary story about a woman and elevating it to something else entirely.
Dawson writes with such grace and wisdom, it’s difficult to believe this is her first novel. Like Scotch and Buxbaum, her writing has a literary quality that makes the book more sophisticated. Annabelle’s musings are deep and thoughtful, and her emotions are raw. The reader can feel the depths of her despair and loneliness as she travels the “what-if” paths of her life. It’s difficult to reflect on thirty years and wonder where your mistakes were, which direction your life should have taken. It’s a feat that Dawson accomplishes masterfully, without the usual self-indulgence that accompanies it.
Annabelle is in a very different stage of life than I am, so while I couldn’t exactly understand what she was going through, she was a very sympathetic character. She certainly made some bad decisions along the way. Oftentimes, I was cringing, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, because it inevitably would. Annabelle is frank about her mistakes and doesn’t try to rationalize when telling her story. I appreciated that she could tell the truth to herself, rather than trying to justify it in her head – it made the entire situation more bearable.
Maddie Dawson is a gifted writer, and The Stuff That Never Happened was a great read from beginning to end. I loved how Dawson wrapped it up, how one of the end messages is the importance of communication, above all. It was an exceptional debut novel and I really look forward to seeing what subject Dawson chooses to tackle next.