Guest blog by Maren Cooper
When this post is published, I’ll be just two months out from my pub date for A Better Next, my debut novel. Writing is the fourth or fifth chapter in my own life’s book, and is an adventure I didn’t anticipate.
One of the themes of my book is divorce. I didn’t set out to write a novel about divorce, but rather, about a dual career couple dealing with the conflicts inherent in keeping confidential business matters out of their everyday conversation, and how that strains their relationship.
Jess Lawson, the protagonist, is going through a doozy of a marital crisis in the middle of a busy career challenge while trying to deal with her impending empty nest. Sound familiar? It should. As I developed the characters, the end of the marriage seemed inevitable. That caused me to do some quick research. Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce. And, about the same percentage of married couples are dual career couples. We all know someone who has been through, is going through, or expects to go through a divorce. Without giving a dissertation on the cultural changes over the past few decades, it seems predictable that re-negotiated relationships go along with the upheaval.
Divorce looms large in women’s fiction. It is one of the dominant crises that may face a woman during her lifetime. Indeed, as the incidence is so high, it’s no wonder that we want to read about it. While divorce is a universal concept, it is also an extremely personal experience. No two are exactly alike. And, even in the most peaceful, drama lurks; if only imagined by outsiders looking in.
As I consider the books I’ve read over the past few years that address divorce, the stories vary. Cathy Zane writes of emotional and physical abuse in Better Than This. Memoirs like Kathryn Taylor’s Two Minus One with its surprise element are almost a cautionary tale for readers.
Liane Moriarity’s book Big Little Lies, picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club and then for the screen, clearly displays the challenges of second marriages after a divorce with children involved. In I’m the One Who Got Away Andrea Jarrell masterfully depicts the consequences of marital dysfunction and divorce on children.
I enjoyed Marilyn Simon Rothstein’s book Husbands and Other Sharp Objects and Camile Pagan’s book Woman Last seen in Her Thirties for their humor. At some point, the divorced have to find the humor in their situation, right? When is it too soon, and when is it therapeutic?
I’m a fan of Mary Kay Andrews and enjoyed The Weekenders— again a woman doing her best to get through a painful time. Jen Lancaster’s book By the Numbers is also a good read about moving through a tough time with dignity.
How about Tayari Jones An American Marriage? Wrongful incarceration certainly is a stressor to this couple who were, by all accounts, madly in love. How should we judge the wife who makes the decision not to wait for her man? A good book club discussion here.
And, my favorite for last. The Wife—Meg Wolitzer’s classic, made even more popular now by the sublime Ms. Glenn Close whose masterful portrayal of a woman wronged makes this reader grit her teeth hoping that she would have divorced the bastard had he not died!
Recently, Brooke Warner featured Tayari Jones on her podcast Write-Minded and I remember a comment Jones made about how authors early on write the “obvious story.” I wonder if this concept fits as an explanation for why so many women write and read about divorce. They see it, or they experience it so it becomes something they write and read about. Sometimes for therapy, sometimes to better understand it, sometimes because they see it in relationships around them.
It’s all about family drama. Divorce has it all. Every social class and every family member is affected. Whether the break-down of the marriage was in the works for years and relief abounds once it is finally acknowledged legally, or it’s a shock that requires time to adjust to the fact of it; all parties will respond in their own way. Stages or grief come to mind. Some will go through re-invention or renewal, some will be stuck trying to sort out what went wrong. After all, people still refer to “divorce survivors” or “victims of divorce.” Years later each member affected remembers it differently. Who was wronged, who came out of it better off? All involved carry baggage from it.
Yep, books about divorce will be written and read because they reflect life around us. Drama.
Maren Cooper grew up in the Midwest and now resides in Minnesota. During her long career as a health services executive, she led a number of organizations in their efforts to respond to the challenges of new, competitive business models, improve their operating systems, and optimize their governance structures. A lifelong reader, Cooper recently discovered the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, began taking classes, and slowly unearthed the aspiring writer inside her. She writes best on the shore of Lake Superior, where she retreats frequently to hike, watch the deer devour her hostas, and needlepoint. Visit her at https://marencooper.com/