“I’m not happy.” Those three words set the end of novelist Elizabeth Crane’s marriage into motion. After 15 years of repeated promises from Crane’s husband that he wasn’t going anywhere, he changed the narrative. During those years, he had also promised to tell Crane before he became involved with someone else. That promise he kept.
But a relationship is a living thing, and as Crane writes her way through her marriage, she reveals shifts that were taking place all along. In This Story Will Change, Crane uses her narrative skills to excavate her relationship.
Crane (The History of Great Things) 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. (One chapter is, appropriately, titled “Doesn’t This All Seem Pretty Common and Not Unusual or Even Awful at All in a Long-Term Marriage?” Another chapter, which is only three sentences long, acknowledges that this is a one-sided story, the wife’s story.) But the occasional shift into first person jars the reader into recalling that this intimate recollection is actually the author’s own experience.
Repeating themes surface throughout this retelling, just as a couple often revisits the same arguments throughout their relationship. Among them is Crane’s husband’s claim: “I don’t think you’d be a good mother.” These words haunted Crane for years—until she spent time with an old journal and realized her husband had never actually said that at all. She had sharpened his actual comment—that she would be a good mom but would worry a lot—into a weapon she used for self-flagellation for years. Memory is unreliable, and our own stories shift through faulty recollection.
As Crane recounts separating from her husband and setting up a temporary home with a friend in New York City, pleasure mingles with pain. Sublimely happy moments—a first Christmas without her husband—dissolve into her sadness at being alone. But a post-split tattoo reveals Crane’s ongoing optimism: “It says love. With a period after it, like a decree,” she writes. “I still believe in it. Sometimes like Santa. But I do.”