All images in this post courtesy of the Project: Happily Ever After media kit
Back in December of 2010, author Alisa Bowman contacted me via blogger Andi of Misadventures With Andi asking if I would read her soon-to-be-released self-help book, Project: Happily Ever After After — Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters.
She’d asked if I’d be willing to post a review along with several other bloggers to coincide with the “media blitz” for the book’s official release in mid-January of 2011. I wrote that I would love to! However, I’ve been sitting on this post for more than two months now because life intervened and put some boiling-hot pots on the front burner, and handling those pots took priority over all else in my life. Then recovery from handling those events in my life took priority, and I stalled on writing the review (except for the preview of the review I posted earlier).
Two months later, I am back here to give my thoughts on the book. Better late than never? I hope so. Most of all, my primary motivation for writing the review instead of just dropping it is my healthy sense of respect for writers and a healthy sense of respect for self — that I will do what I say I will. Writing the review is a psychological hurdle I want to tackle before I will feel the freedom to post anything else on this blog.
So here you go: my Special Report on Alisa Bowman’s Project: Happily Ever After.
What is Project: Happily Ever After?
After being contacted by the author, Alisa Bowman (to whom I shall refer as “Alisa” hereafter. Somehow reading about her getting a Brazilian wax and alluding to the fact that she learned how to give a good B.J. — yes, THAT — in the book makes me feel like I can be on a first-name basis with her), it took a little while for the advance copy to get to me in Paris — packages going to and from France have been taking a little longer of late. I finally received the copy a couple of days into the new year, and I eagerly jumped into it because what I’d read in the press information packet that came with the book the book was really captivating:
In Project: Happily Ever After, Alisa Bowman bravely tells the story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to renewing her wedding vows. Her four-month project was a last ditch effort to save a marriage that many — her friends, her colleagues and even her own mother — had written off as hopeless.
Like most people, I like a story with a heroine who has dismal odds against her and who triumphs in the end (which was obviously the case from the title of the book), and this was a real-life story to boot. I had some fears going into it, though. As a twice-divorcée, I wondered if I would feel judgement raining down on my head because of the advice therein. I mean, for those two marriages, reading a book like this could feel a lot like “too little, too late.” I also felt that perhaps the information in the book would be an indictment of how much I have been a failure: that it would tell me that there was so much more I could have and should have done to try to save those relationships. I carry guilt with me that I am twice-divorced (even though I know, much as this book also emphasizes, “it takes two to tango”). Here was a woman that pulled out all the stops to recapture her relationship, even after its slide into the dark abyss of daydreams of funeral services for the man she’d chosen to be her husband and with whom she had a young daughter. Would I feel myself coming up short after reading it?
I’ll admit: while the story was intriguing, and I wanted to know her secrets of how she and her husband renewed their relationship, I was wondering if I would find it helpful or if I would just feel depressed knowing that while the advice might help me in my current relationship, it could do nothing for those divorces I’ve already been through. I resolved to keep an open mind, however, and was looking for reasons to like the book, to be receptive towards it.
I’m here to report that I found the book wonderful to read, and not at all condemning.
Right off the bat, I noted the creativity with which the book is organized. On the Table of Contents page, each chapter title reads as part of a larger fable. It goes like this:
Once upon a time (Chapter One), there lived a fair maiden (Chapter Two), who met a prince (Chapter Three). She married him, and he turned into a frog (Chapter Four). So she started a project (Chapter Five) to forgive him (Chapter Six), to desire him (Chapter Seven), and feel adored by him (Chapter Eight). Poof! He turned back into a prince… or did he? (Chapter Nine). They learned a common language (Chapter Ten), and they revealed their souls (Chapter Eleven). As a result, they lived happily ever after (most of the time, anyway) (Chapter Twelve). The end (Chapter Thirteen).
Clever, no? And it is a fantastic summary of the book. The reader and educator in me was impressed right at the start with this wonderful and witty way of organizing the book’s information.
And then there was Chapter Four…
I took notes as I read, and in reconstructing my thoughts, I’m going to share a little of what I wrote. As I recall, and as my notes attest, I breezed though the first three chapters. The first chapter kicks off with a total “grabber”: “I knew something was terribly wrong with my marriage when I planned my husband’s funeral.” You think? That’s attention-getting, for sure. After the introductory chapter of just how bad things were in May of 2007, when Alisa’s project to save her marriage begins, the next two chapters jump back to the author’s past and how she came to meet, fall in love with, and marry her husband, Mark. I’m certain the reason that I did not stop to take more notes is that the book straightaway drew me in. The opening chapters read more like a terrific memoir than a “this is how to save your marriage” instruction manual, and I flew through them because they were so well-written.
But what I still remember with much clarity even two months after my first reading is Chapter Four. My notes say this: “Chapter Four is just f***ed up! I [double underlined] want to divorce the man after Chapter Four.”
I feel like I need to put a little disclaimer here. Alisa writes in her book about how Mark, her husband, read all of the book as it was in progress, and that she had his permission to write about the events she recounted. He cops to everything that is in the book regarding his behavior, and where there were discrepancies between their memories, Alisa is clear to put a “his version versus her version” footnote. (For example, one of the book’s many humorously-written footnotes says the following: “When I wrote this sentence [to which the footnote is referring], I asked my husband, ‘How do you spell numbnut?’ He asked, ‘Are you writing about me again?’ p. 116.) It’s all on the up-and-up as far as I can see for Mark in the entire text. I also understand that later in the book Alisa realizes that she had played a role in making the relationship unhealthy as well, and Alisa acknowledges sensibly that it is never just one person that turns things to crap when it comes to problems in marriage and potential divorce; it does indeed take two to tango.
However. Even now I can remember the kind of feelings I had when reading the events in Chapter Four. They were something along the lines of: “This guy is a total d*ckhead.”
Based on what happened to Alisa and Mark’s relationship, and on the things Mark did, I still have some trouble understanding how Alisa was able to come to the subsequent chapters and eventual re-love for Mark.
Honestly, it is not only a testament to Alisa for having the capacity to dig deep and find the forgiveness, but I also have to give Mark total props for manning up and for his willingness to do what was necessary to work with Alisa to repair what had been broken. I give him even more kudos for being willing to come across as the d*ckhead, to accept and admit where he had been in the wrong, and to move on to a healthy and loving relationship with Alisa. But you really have to read Chapter Four to believe it. I’m sure that divorces have happened because of much less.
Reflecting on the book, I can’t help but think about the famous Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Alisa and Mark really did find that wisdom together, ergo the “happily ever after.”
Not that God had a lot to do with the advice in the book. And not that he or she didn’t. But I guess what I am trying to say is that one of the things I truly appreciated about this book was that it was not preachy. It was not holier-than-thou. Not that it was not about physical, mental, and emotional change, something that is a very spiritual act, in my opinion. It was. I just mean to say that there was no defaulting to the attitude or belief that “all you need is God to transform your marriage,” something that I think can be very prevalent in this genre of “relationship rescue.” It is wholeheartedly a secular book with sound psychological and practical advice. Not to say there are not good spiritual principles in the book. In fact, if you really want to cut to the chase, you can buy the book and go straight to the Special Bonus Section at the end which contains an outline of ten key things anyone can do to work on finding a happily ever after for him or herself, things like “Step 1: Find Yourself.” That’s as spiritual an act as anything, I think.
So Who Should Read This Book?
It’s a given that a person whose relationship is in crisis and wants a kind of gauge as to whether or not the relationship is worth saving should read this book.
But I really like what author Pat Love, Ed.D. (Hot Monogamy and How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It) says in the promotional materials I received,
“If you have reached rock bottom in your relationship, read this book. If you want to be inspired, read this book. If you want a good read, read this book. It’s sexy, savvy, and oh so hopeful.”
I agree. It can be for any one of those reasons that someone would like this book. What sticks with me, as I wrote above, was the dynamically-written narrative of Alisa and Mark’s life, as told from Alisa’s point-of-view. The book is not just a self-help title, but much more an autobiography frankly and humorously written, a memoir of meeting, falling in love, falling out of love, and returning to that love. I can think of a lot of people, married or not, gay or straight, male or female that would enjoy such a tale. It very much is also an anthropological snapshot of middle class, North-American, 21st century life. While I know it is not written for the same purposes nor on the same scale, I’m now reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and I see parallels in the stories that are told in each book. The thing that makes Alisa Bowman’s story perhaps more captivating is that it is her real-life love story. And based on what I have read of Freedom so far, I think the characters could have used some of Alisa’s advice, too. (Don’t spoil it for me, though, mmmkay?)
If by now you are not sure if you want to read the book, you can “test drive” some of the kinds of advice that is in it by visiting the following links:
- The Project: Happily Ever After website at www.happilyeverafter.com
- The Blog: www.happilyeverafter.com/my-blog
There is a bounty of information and resources at both of those links, and I, at the very least, recommend that you take a look at them. Of course I am recommending purchase of the book as well, which you can do here at Amazon, or even better, support your local, independent bookseller and pick up a copy there.
This page (or click on the website’s The Book tab) has sneak peeks of the introduction and Chapter One, also. Scroll down to the bottom.
So what about what I learned? What about the question I had for myself, “Would I feel myself coming up short after reading it?”
Here are a couple of things I got out of it all which speak to what I gained. On page 107, the first page of Chapter Five, Alisa quotes Salvador Minuchin, one of the top family therapists in recent decades:
“All marriages are mistakes that we then spend time repairing.”
I love that line. I know the truth of it, perhaps even more so now that I have the maturity I did not when I married the first time 20 years ago, nor the second time ten years ago. On the brink of a third marriage, understanding the perspective that it’s already a “mistake” but that I can do something about fixing things, gives me a real hope that this time he and I will “make it.”
Then, at the end of the book in the section “10 Steps to Happily Ever After” Alisa herself writes,
Finding your Happily Ever After is a lot like tending a garden. You plant seeds. You water them. You pull out the weeds. You strain your back. You scrape up your knees. You worry about whether there’s been too much sun, too much rain, or too much sun and rain. You curse when the deer eat your strawberries.
You rejoice whenever anything manages to grow.
The you do it all over again. You do it because the one strawberry that made it is worth all of the hard work you put into growing the strawberries that didn’t.
That’s marriage. You work. You work harder. Some of your work pays off. Some of it doesn’t…
The lovely juxtaposition of this book is how, while the title and organization of the book follow a fable, a fairy-tale, the story and advice communicate the reality that no relationship is weed-free. The reality is that marriage (or any committed relationship) is not magical, is not without work. I have learned, for better or for worse, that indeed we reap what we sow, and that we can be empowered to choose to care of ourselves and not make anyone else responsible for our own happiness. We are our own knights in shining armor.
I could also understand from reading and relating the book to my own situation that not all gardens are going to make it — in fact, according to statistics, not many at all will prosper these days. But if one takes Alisa’s sound advice on “gardening,” on tending our relationships, perhaps we will indeed reap a few berries in the process.
Thoughts? Questions? Feedback of any sort? Feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading.
(an alien parisienne)