A Happy Catastrophe
This yikesworthy sequel to Matchmaking for Beginners finds Marnie MacGraw and Patrick Delaney coping with their growing relationship – and a sudden change that shifts their shared living situation forever. It also has the worst treatment of clinical depression with psychoaffective disorder in a work of fiction I’ve read in many a day.
Florist-slash-matchmaker Marnie and painter Patrick – the magic-producing optimist and the depressed realist – are blissfully happy together four years after they first got together in Matchmaking for Beginners (so the narrative keeps insisting, though they honestly don’t act like it). Marnie’s planning a future for the two of them (which mainly seems to involve pushing Patrick to do a gallery showing he’s not enthusiastic about, and asking him for a baby he’s reluctant to have), while Patrick is caught in a deep depression, still dealing with the fire that killed his previous girlfriend and physically scarred him.
Then Fritzie – the product of the two night affair Patrick had eight years earlier with Tessa Farrell – who gets a PoV chapter for reasons I fail to understand – pops into their lives. After Marnie invites Fritzie to come live with them for a year while her mother is elsewhere – without asking Patrick first – she thinks the girl’s presence will help convince Patrick that he’s meant to be a father. But Patrick is already spiraling over the stress of the prospective showing and the side-effects of dealing with his trauma, and the addition of Fritzie into his life does not improve his self-loathing. Will Patrick bond with his daughter? Or will her presence drive him over a dark edge from which not even Marnie can rescue him?
A Happy Catastrophe is a car crash between two different but viable ideas. Separately, the notion of exploring what life is like for someone dealing with heavy survivor’s guilt or the daily patterings of a baby-obsessed matchmaking white witch might make for an interesting read. Putting them into the same single story results in a tonal disaster that makes the reader hate the heroine and want to get the hero a good therapist.
Marnie seems to practice some form of magical thinking/white witchcraft that is poorly defined and New Agey in a woo-woo way. She puts everything down to The Universe. The Universe wants them to have a baby, because Marnie saw fifteen kids on the way to work, ergo she’s going to have a baby and she will mentally will the condom to break, no matter what Patrick needs or wants. She sees sparks in the air around two fated persons and this is how she matchmakes. She can communicate with Blix, her late mentor, by standing next to her toaster. This quirkiness was light and charming in Matchmaking for Beginners, but here – as Patrick grapples with a serious and continuing depression, PTSD and survivor’s guilt – it makes you want to punch her in the face with the heel of a size eight Doc Marten. She comes off as abominably, monomaniacally selfish here, the kind of woman who cries self-pityingly when she doesn’t get the ‘oops’ pregnancy she wanted, hours after her quasi-stepdaughter is revealed as a thief in her presence.
Patrick says that he’s happy with his life as is – in their non-married, non-kid-filled relationship – and he has every right to feel that way, but he is so painfully and understandably overwhelmed with self-loathing that reading his chapters is agony. Marnie mostly and literally makes him feel better because being around her flibbertygibbert freespirited self can mostly shut out Annelise’s (his previous girlfriend, who literally burned to death in front of him) screaming in his head. Operative word: MOSTLY. Sure, he’s internalizing most of this and refuses to tell Marnie about it, but she KNOWS he’s been through severe trauma. Why is Marnie trying to force this man to have another kid when he’s barely finished mourning Annelise? Why does she need a biological child at all? He’s been through some super heavy shit and Marnie doesn’t seem to recognize it. Annelise actually exists as a separate voice in his head commenting on the action. You cannot wish or magic such problems away. He needs therapy, and possibly psychoaffective medication.
And then there’s Fritzie, who’d be a believable child character had she not reacted to being abandoned by her bio-mom – who, undemonstrative as she is, is still the only parent she’s known – with almost unseemly cheer. She acts out once before Patrick and Marnie have their Big Third Act Separation, and that’s to steal money – which she promptly gives to a homeless classmate. Really?
And how does the author solve these many, serious problems? Well, she doesn’t. Not to spoil the book… oh heck, to spoil the book – Patrick recovers from his psychosis and emotional trauma by caring for Fritzie alone for a week, which makes him realize he needs Marnie in his life and put the voices in his head aside (which is Not How That Works, Author). Marnie gets everything she wants while paying very little in the consequences department, from a newborn via a pregnant neighboring teen, to Fritzie as her child, to a marriage with Patrick, to her parents fixing their romantic relationship (the book’s only decent subplot and the only thing saving it from a full-on F).
The biggest shame of all is that Dawson has actual technical talent. I would’ve loved Fritzie and Marnie in some other book, with some other plot.
Some subjects shouldn’t be the center focus of light fiction, and I’d say a man obsessively painting his dead ex girlfriend because he hasn’t fully recovered from failing to save her life doesn’t belong in a book featuring haunted toasters. If I wanted to read about Elle Woods falling in love with Eric Draven, I’d read something on Archive of Our Own, not A Happy Accident, which ought to be used as the outer wrapping for a very greasy basket of fish and chips.