Interesting essay by Amy Sohn in June Elle:
While the single-gal chick lit of the late ’90s, with its brand names and glitzy nightlife, can be seen as the fictional flowering of the Clinton-era economic boom, one way to look at divorce porn is as a product of the recent financial downturn. Bridget Jones’s Diary may have flown off the shelves when the Dow was up, and we thought nothing of dropping $400 on Christian Louboutins. These days, we consign the mules, bake casseroles, and read about loss. Recent months have seen a parallel trend of “layoff lit,” books about people who lost money, jobs, or both: The Bag Lady Papers by Alexandra Penney, a Bernie Madoff victim; Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness, by former House & Garden editor Dominique Browning; and Janelle Brown’s novel This Is Where We Live, about an L.A. couple about to lose their home. (Divorce porn is for people who like their loss narratives served hot.)
Divorce porn’s Citizen Kane was Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, which hung out on the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list for 57 weeks. Gilbert’s literal and metaphorical “journey”—embarked upon after a crippling divorce in her early thirties—provided endless fodder for book group discussions and set publishers on a tear to find Elizabeth Gilbert 2.0, a bright female voice who could tell a difficult, personal, and ultimately uplifting true tale.
They found several. Four divorce pornoirs have hit the Times hardcover bestseller list in the past year: Julie Metz’s Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, Isabel Gillies’ Happens Every Day: An All- Too-True Story, Elizabeth Edwards’ Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, and Jenny Sanford’s Staying True. Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece was published in March to a big publicity push and so far is selling briskly, by Simon & Schuster and Redbook, of which she is editor- in-chief.
Who among us, married or engaged, hasn’t fantasized about being single once more? But most of us won’t pull the trigger, so we can peek between our fingers, in horrified fascination, at the implosion of others’ marriages and the aftermath.
I wrote an essay after my marriage ended, which won me a National Magazine Award in Canada; the night I won, I told the audience, truthfully, I wanted to thank my ex-husband, “without whom it would not have been possible.” I meant it.
The one decent thing about being a writer, and going through awful experiences is that you know it’s going to make a terrific story later, and preferably one with a decent check attached. We get good at retailing our demons.
When things get really bad, and they have, I repeat my mantra: “It’s all material!”
I didn’t write about my divorce because I was so ashamed that my husband of barely two years (seven together) had so coolly walked out on me for — oh, yeah — his “best friend”, a woman he worked with (and is still married to.) I had left behind a country, career, friends and family in Canada to follow him to his native United States, so I was pretty deeply invested in the ongoing success of that union. (Sometimes writing about my life really is too painful and personal.)
I think one of the reasons divorce porn is so attractive is also that marriage is often so private. We never really know all the accommodations our friends are making with/for their spouse and/or kids, what insanity or inanity or cheapness or infidelity they are swallowing to keep it all together. Or , when we whine, or listen to others, we simply don’t believe it’s really that bad or, as the saying goes, can’t handle the truth. My ex was a doctor, and no one could believe that this smart, handsome, gentle guy was…different…at home with me.
And reading about someone else’s divorce is so much simpler than the real thing. Unless you’re loaded and had a great pre-nup, ending a marriage is often expensive and filled with drama. Sort of like going to the opera, without the sur-titles or intermission.
I’m not rushing out to read these books because, having lived through one divorce, I don’t have a huge appetite to read about theirs.
How about you?
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