One-Minute Book Reviews

February 25, 2010

2010 Delete Key Awards Finalist No. 2 — ‘It Sucked and Then I Cried’ by Heather B. Armstrong

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From Heather Armstrong’s It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita (Simon Spotlight):

“Leta knew how to poop, she knew how to eat, SHE HAD TO KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.”

“‘HA! ANOTHER BABY? The logistics of more than one TOTALLY BOGGLED MY MIND.”

“But this time we couldn’t park in the special parking space because I was no longer pregnant (THANK THE LORD GOD JESUS!) and we had to park in the non-pregnant parking space and walk an extra twenty feet to the door. We found this inconvenience totally unacceptable as we were living in America and shouldn’t have to walk an extra twenty feet for anything. AM I RIGHT? AM I RIGHT? This is the best country on Earth! WE DON’T WALK NOWHERE FOR NUTHING. Damn straight.”


Read the full review of It Sucked and Then I Cried.

The Delete Key Awards finalists are being named in random order, beginning with No. 10, but numbered for convenience. This is finalist No. 2. You can also read about the Delete Key Awards on Janice Harayda’s page (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. The winner and runners-up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 26, 2009

When Friends Gave Sarah Palin a Baby Shower at a Shooting Range – Quote of the Day From ‘Going Rogue’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:51 pm
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After weeks of waiting, I reached the top of the library reserve list for Going Rogue and will review it Monday. An offbeat incident from the memoir involves a shower that friends gave for Sarah Palin when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and pregnant with her daughter Piper:

“My friends and I still did a lot of things together, including clay shooting, and I continued to visit the range while I was pregnant. So in a nod to our Second Amendment, my friends Kristin Cole and Judy Patrick threw me a baby shower at the Grouse Ridge shooting range – complete with a cake in the shape of a Piper airplane.”

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter, where she has posted other comments on Sarin Palin’s memoir.

October 21, 2009

Heather Armstrong’s Memoir of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood — ‘It Sucked and Then I Cried’ – Shrieking All the Way to the Psych Ward

The creator of a popular blog tells how she found her way to a mental hospital and back

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita. By Heather B. Armstrong. Simon Spotlight, 258 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Heather Armstrong warns on her blog, Dooce, that she “CANNOT RESIST THE CAPS-LOCK KEY.” The same caution applies to her unabashedly self-indulgent memoir of pregnancy, childbirth, and the infancy of her first child, which made her so anxious that she checked herself into a mental hospital after she got no relief from psychotherapy and drugs that included Risperdal, Ativan, Trazodone, Lamictal, Effexor, Abilify, Strattera, Klonopin, and Seroquel.

How did Armstrong like breastfeeding? “Everything I’d ever read about breastfeeding had to have been written by a man with no tits, because everything said that as long as the baby was in the right position it wouldn’t hurt to breast feed. THAT WAS A LIE.” What did she think when her daughter woke up at 2 a.m.? “Leta knew how to poop, she knew how to eat, SHE HAD TO KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.” Would Armstrong consider having  another child? “‘HA! ANOTHER BABY? The logistics of more than one TOTALLY BOGGLED MY MIND.”

It Sucked and Then I Cried is intermittently funny but has a lot of bathroom humor and sometimes a nasty edge. Armstrong writes unkindly that when her stepfather raises his voice, she thinks: “Maybe if you SCREAMED A LITTLE LOUDER THE WINDOWS WOULD EXPLODE.” If she hates it when people shout at her, why does she spend so much time in this book doing what she calls “S.H.R.I.E.K.I.N.G.”?

Best line: No. 1: Utah stores sell soaps “in the shape of Joseph Smith’s head.” No. 2: “A few days after Leta turned four months old we took away Leta’s pacifier and it felt like we were running a division of the Betty Ford Clinic.”

Worst line: “But this time we couldn’t park in the special parking space because I was no longer pregnant (THANK THE LORD GOD JESUS!) and we had to park in the non-pregnant parking space and walk an extra twenty feet to the door. We found this inconvenience totally unacceptable as we were living in America and shouldn’t have to walk an extra twenty feet for anything. AM I RIGHT? AM I RIGHT? This is the best country on Earth! WE DON’T WALK NOWHERE FOR NUTHING. Damn straight.”

Editor: Patrick Price

Published: January 2009

About the author: Armstrong lives in Utah with her husband, Jon, and has had a second child since finishing It Sucked and Then I Cried. She has more than a million followers on Twitter at

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved. and

October 13, 2009

Tori Spelling’s Hollywood Memoir, ‘Mommywood’ – ‘Dean and I Have Sex Three to Four Times a Week!’

Guests brought gay-themed gifts to a baby shower for her son, Liam

Mommywood. By Tori Spelling with Hilary Liftin. Simon Spotlight, 243 pp., $25.

By Janice Harayda

Tori Spelling once wore a Marie Antoinette Halloween costume custom-made by Nolan Miller, the designer for Dynasty and other televisions show produced by her father, Aaron Spelling. In a sense, the media have never allowed her to take it off.

Spelling has been guillotined by tabloids and others for a tumbrel of offenses — her nose job, her feud with her mother, her breast-augmentation surgery, her acting on Beverly Hills, 90210, her appearances with her husband on the reality show Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood. “I’m cocktail party joke material,” she says in Mommywood, the follow-up to her bestselling memoir, sTORI telling.

Spelling’s new book describes her efforts to give her two young children what she calls a more “normal” childhood than she had. An example of normal in Hollywood occurred when she became pregnant with her son, Liam, and her gay friends worried that her firstborn would be “too straight to hang out” with them.

“In hopes of being an early influence, lots of my friend gave me gay-themed gifts at my baby shower,” Spelling writes. “A pink onesie saying ‘My boyfriend’s out of town for the weekend.’ A rock T-shirt saying ‘Queen’ (as in the band).”

Another example of “normal”: Spelling worked her pregnancy into her reality show and took her son on an international media tour when he was two months old. Some of the stories that resulted are perversely entertaining. But Mommywood as a whole is a self-indulgent font of evidence of Spelling’s insecurities and questionable judgment. And that especially applies to its criticisms of her mother, Candy Spelling, who has given different versions of some of the events in this book to the media. If you want your children to grow up unwarped by Hollywood, will it help to write a book keeps taking swipes at their grandmother?

Best line: “I grew up in a house with a driveway that was so long I can’t remember ever walking to the bottom of it.”

Worst line: No. 1: “Now I have two children of my own and I want them to have a normal childhood.” This comes from someone who took her son on a media tour when he was two months old. No. 2: “Dean and I were sitting around a table with some producers from our show. We were talking about sex after babies, and one of the other married men at the table said, ‘What sex life after kids?’ Dean and I have sex three to four times a week!” No. 3: Spelling writes of the day her son had an accident at a pool: “Either you know this already or it’s too much information, but swim diapers aren’t rigged quite the same way as normal diapers are. Swim diapers have a tough job. They have to keep in whatever comes out. Without them, babies would put the ‘poo’ in ‘pool.’ So they don’t have convenient Velcro openings. You can’t just untape, wipe, and be done with it. Instead they’re like little pants. The load is kind of trapped in there. Good news for the other swimmers, but once I had Liam in my arms, I had no idea how to get that swim diaper off while adequately containing its contents. That is to say, I feared the poop. …
“I laid Liam down on his towel. I pulled off the swim diaper. Again, either you know this already or it’s too much information, but when poo is exposed to that environment (pool water, a sopping swim diaper, a hyper child – the trifecta), it loses its structural integrity. There was no … cohesion. Just crumbles of poo everywhere. A horror show.
“I went in for the kill, but a few swipes later I was out of wipes and still facing an insurmountable mess. I swear, there was actually more there than when I started.”

Published: February 2009

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 19, 2009

‘The Case Against Breast-Feeding’ Takes Aim at ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ and ‘The Breastfeeding Book’

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Hanna Rosin makes a strong case that doctors and others have wildly oversold the benefits of breastfeeding in “The Case Against Breast-Feeding” in the April issue of the Atlantic. Rosin reviewed the research on breastfeeding and found that “the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature.” Good studies have found that nursing is “probably, maybe, a little better.” But it offers far from the cascade of benefits that guides such as William Sears’s The Breastfeeding Book say. And the modest advantages may not justify the cost to a mother’s independence, career and sanity.

So what accounts for “the magical thinking about breast-feeding”? Rosin quotes Joan Wolf, a professor at Texas A&M, who ascribes some of the overzealousness to a new ethic of “total motherhood” that pressures women to “optimize every dimension of children’s lives”:

“Choices are often presented as the mother’s selfish desires versus the baby’s needs. As an example, Wolf quotes What to Expect When You’re Expecting, from a section called the ‘Best-Odds Diet,’ which I remember quite well: ‘Every bite counts. You’ve got only nine months of meals and snacks to give your baby the best possible start in life … Before you close your mouth on a forkful of food, consider, ‘Is this the best bite I can give my baby?’ If it will benefit your baby, chew away. If it’ll only benefit your sweet tooth or appease your appetite, put your fork down. To which any self-respecting pregnant woman should respond: ‘I am carrying 35 extra pounds and my ankles have swelled to the size of a life raft, and now I would like to eat some coconut cream pie. So you know what you can do with this damn fork.’”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved. and

August 11, 2008

No Consolation in Ann Hood’s ‘Comfort: A Journey Through Grief’

A mother’s account the death her 5-year-old daughter from a ruthless form of strep contrasts with Elizabeth Edwards’s approach to the death of her 16-year-old son

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief. By Ann Hood. Norton, 188 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

It is Ann Hood’s bad luck that I read Comfort a few days after finishing Elizabeth Edwards’s Saving Graces, which has a moving section on the death of her 16-year-old son. Edwards says that on what would have been Wade’s 17th birthday, she and her husband went to a park and handed out 100 printed cards that read:

“July 18 would be the 17th birthday of Wade Edwards of Raleigh. Please use the attached coupon to celebrate his birthday with an ice cream or treat from the Pullen Park concession stand.

“The gift you can give in Wade’s name is to do something nice for someone else.”

This lovely gesture caused some pain for Edwards and her husband, John, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice-president:

“It occurred to us later that this would have been a happy way to celebrate Wade’s birthday if he had lived. Instead, the delight on the faces of the children as they returned from the concession stand with ice cream treats was a sad reminder of what it might have been had Wade lived.”

Sad it may been, but the incident shows a warmth and humanity less apparent in Hood’s more self-absorbed account of death of her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, from a ruthless form of strep in April 2002. In a typical passage in Comfort, Hood seems outraged that nearly a year and a half after her daughter’s death, her church sang “Amazing Grace” on a September Sunday “close to Grace’s birthday” and “without any warning” beyond the usual notice in the bulletin. She and her husband went to see the ministers and apparently got the apology they sought: “It was a mistake. They were sorry. It would never happen again. In fact, they would not play ‘Amazing Grace’ in September, or in April, the month Grace died.”

Hood’s anger about this incident is believable. Anyone who has lost someone greatly loved knows that small events can have titanic emotional force and you may need do all you can to protect yourself from them. But “Amazing Grace” is perhaps the world’s most popular hymn and invariably ranks on surveys among the top ten. Perhaps more than any other, it has brought comfort to older people and others facing their own deaths. And the satisfaction that Hood finds in her church’s willingness ban the hymn for two months a year — even as she allows that it still “should be played” at other times — typifies the me-first tone of Comfort. This approach differs both from Edwards’s altruism and from the more journalistic treatment of books such as John Gunther’s classic memoir of the death of his teenage son, Death Be Not Proud.

In a sense, the self-indulgence of Comfort is true to life. Grief makes narcissists of us all. A searing loss can leave us – when we want most to remember someone else – aware only of our own pain. But Edwards and others have found ways to acknowledge this reality while offering a more complex view of grief.

In Saving Graces Edwards writes of going after storm to the cemetery where Wade was buried and seeing a man, carrying a small dog, who often visited his father’s grave: “The only tree in the man’s section of the cemetery had fallen, and it had fallen across the grave of his father. His pain and helplessness were overwhelming. I made a small bouquet from the flowers at Wade’s grave and took them to him. He usually brought something for the grave, but that day he was empty in every way. Sometimes we pressed on as if we were not weakened, and then we saw ourselves in someone else.”

Saving Graces is Edwards’s first book, and Comfort is Hood’s tenth. But that cemetery scene may tell you more about grief than anything in Comfort. Hood spells everything out as neatly as an article in Good Housekeeping or Ladies’ Home Journal, two magazines for which she writes, in prose as smooth as glass. Edwards leaves some things implicit or unanswered, as great novelists do. (Why was that man at the cemetery carrying his dog?) In that sense, Saving Graces is truer to perhaps the most painful aspect of grief: Its depths are unknowable, except to the people who feel it them.

Best line: After Grace’s death, Hood and her husband adopted a baby girl from China and learned in the process some Chinese mothers mark or “brand” their babies with small scars before they abandon them “as a sign of love.” She and her husband traveled in a group of families, all of whom received their children at the same time: “Soon people were lifting pant legs or the cuffs of sleeves to show the small scars on their babies.” On the neck of her new daughter Hood found “a thick rope of scar tissue, round and small,” which a pediatrician belived was a burn that had healed.

Worst line: Hood says that she used to sleep holding her daughter in the crook of her arm: “So that I literally held Grace day and night for the first year of her life.”

Recommendation? Tara McKelvey wrote correctly in a review in the New York Times Book Review that Comfort “doesn’t offer comfort, not really – only grief.”

Published: May 2008

Furthermore: Hood also wrote Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine and The Knitting Circle. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 3, 2008

Do ‘Attachment Parenting’ Gurus William and Martha Sears Make Berry Brazelton and Penelope Leach ‘Look Like Conan the Barbarian and Nurse Ratched’?

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Since 1992 more than a half million people have bought The Baby Book, the influential infant-care manual by pediatrician William Sears and nurse Martha Sears. The Searses recommend carrying an infant in a sling — ideally, for “many hours” a day — as part of an approach to child-rearing that they call “attachment parenting” or “high-touch parenting.”

That approach comes under blistering fire in The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women (Free Press, 2004), a witty and irreverent critique of the unrealistic and guilt-inducing demands made on contemporary mothers, by scholars Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels of the University of Michigan and Smith College. Douglas and Michaels write of the Searses:

“When it comes to properly nurturing your child, these two make the likes of T. Berry Brazelton or Penelope Leach look like Conan the Barbarian and Nurse Ratched. The Sears philosophy is as simple as it is impossible: Reattach your baby to your body the moment she is born and keep her there pretty much until she goes to college. If you do not do this, your child will fail to bond properly to you and you to her, and the rest is a straight road to the juvenile detention center for her and the Betty Ford Clinic for you.”

Douglas and Michaels add:

“While Dr. Bill and Martha do acknowledge that working mothers are real and do refrain from saying anything explicitly condemnatory about them, the massive edifice of attachment parenting that they construct is one that no working mother can fully scale and conquer….

“Especially if you are accustomed to high achievement and to cutthroat competition, attachment parenting opens the door to standards of excellence that would put any law partner wannabe to shame.”

Read an interview with the authors of The Mommy Myth on Salon at Read an excerpt from their book at

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 11, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Empty Nest,’ Edited by Karen Stabiner

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop
Edited by Karen Stabiner

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

A professor of family studies recently told the Washington Post that the idea of the empty-nest syndrome has been pretty much debunked by scholars. But the departure of children still packed an emotional wallop for many of the 31 parents who describe their experiences in the essay collection The Empty Nest, edited by Karen Stabiner. The contributors to the book include men and women, married and single parents and little-known authors and celebrities such as syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman and novelist and journalist Anna Quindlen.

Hyperion/Voice has posted a brief readers’ guide to The Empty Nest at that you may want to use at a starting point for your discussions. But like most publishers’ guides, that guide is part of a publicity campaign designed to sell books. It does not encourage criticism, cite negative reviews or suggest that you compare the novel to others on similar topics. For these reasons, the Hyperion/Voice guide may have less depth or promote a less lively conversation than you or your group would prefer. The following Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide is not intended to be comprehensive but to raise questions not covered by the Hyperion/Voice guide.

Questions for Readers

[Page numbers are based on the advance readers’ edition and may differ in the final version.]

1. Many experts have come to see the empty-nest syndrome as myth. Do you agree or disagree with them? How did the book affect your view of this issue?

2. If you agree with the experts who say that the negative effects of the empty nest were exaggerated, why do you think they were exaggerated?

3. Some researchers have found that effects of the empty nest are actually worse for fathers than for mothers. One reason is that women expect to face big changes when children leave home and start planning – and even grieving – before this happens. Men are less likely to prepare for the loss. So they are more likely to be emotionally blindsided by the departure. How do these findings jibe with your experiences and those of people you know?

4. A reviewer for the New York Times Book Review said that The Empty Nest “probably is an exercise in creative catharsis” for the contributors. What do you think the reviewer meant? Was the comment a criticism or compliment? [“Get Out. No, Wait, Come Back!” By Liesl Schillinger. The New York Times Book Review, April 8, 2007 pp. 9–10.]

5. Anna Quindlen says that the women of her generation “professionalized” mothering – for example, by sometimes “making motherhood into a surrogate work world.” At the same time, she adds, “Motherhood changed from a role into a calling.” What’s your reaction to this? Who saw motherhood as more of a “calling,” you or your mother (or grandmother)?

6. Quindlen also says that because of all the “professionalization” of mothering, “the empty nest is emptier than ever before.” Do you agree or disagree? Which generation had a harder time when children left home, yours or your parents’?

7. Marriages often break up when a nest empties, because some parents “stay together for the sake of the children.” Yet not one marriage in The Empty Next seems to have taken a major hit. Did you find this realistic or true to the experiences of women you know? Or did you get the sense that some writers were “spinning” their stories? Or that Stabiner had looked for a certain kind of person for the book?

8. Ellen Goodman writes that she used to think that mothers who had jobs outside the home “might avoid the cliché of the empty-nest syndrome.” Now that she’s in her 60s, she doubts it. What’s your view of this? How does having a job outside the home affect (or not affect) a parent’s reactions to children’s departures?

9. Ellen Levine said that she once found herself “whining” that her son didn’t call as much to talk to her. Some people might say that a lot of parents in The Empty Nest are whining. How did this affect the book? Would it have been stronger if Stabiner had included more writers who didn’t talk so much about their pain? Or were their comments appropriate?

10. One brave contributor, Jan Constantine, admitted that she was actually relieved when her daughter Elizabeth left for the University of Wisconsin. Or, as she put it: “I don’t know which of the two of us, Elizabeth or I, was more relieved to see the other one leave.” [Page 200] Why do you think more parents didn’t make similar comments? Do you think that they weren’t relieved or just felt they shouldn’t say it?

If you dare:
11. Letty Cottin Pogrebin says that one of the things she learned about the empty nest is: “You lose a kid, you gain a sex life.” True or false?

12. Nora Ephron writes briefly about her own empty nest in “Parenting in Three Stages,” an essay in I Feel Bad About My Neck (Knopf, 2006). “If you find yourself nostalgic for the ongoing, day-to-day activities required of the modern parent, there’s a solution: Get a dog,” she says. “I don’t recommend it, because dogs require tremendous commitment, but they definitely give you something to do. Plus they’re very lovable and, more important, uncritical. And they can be trained.” [Page 64] Glib as it might seems to be, this comment makes a subtle point: Sometimes what we feel when children leave home is pure nostalgia. What’s your reaction to this? How does it compare to the tone of The Empty Nest? If you’ve read I Feel Bad About My Neck, which book do you think had more value for empty-nesters?

Vital statistics
The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop. Edited by Karen Stabiner. Hyperion/Voice, 320 pp., $23.95.

A review of The Empty Nest appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on June 11, 2007, and is archived with the June posts and in the “Essays and Reviews” category.

Your book group may also want to read:

1. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95. In this best-selling essay collection, Ephron writes about her empty nest and related topics in a short piece “Parenting in Three Stages.” I Feel Bad About My Neck was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October posts.

2. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. Viking, 231 pp., $24.95. This comic novel focuses on Marie Sharp, a divorced 60-year-old London grandmother who becomes a grandmother for the first time and sees her stage of life differently than do most contributors to The Empty Nest. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on May, 2007, and is archived with the May posts:

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


April 11, 2007

Wendy Swallow’s Memoirs of Divorce and Remarriage

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:10 am
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A writer and mother of two sons conquers some of her fears of life in the single lane

Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce. By Wendy Swallow. Hyperion/Theia, 293 pp., $29.95.

The Triumph of Love Over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage. By Wendy Swallow Hyperion/Theia, 304 pp. $24.95.

By Janice Harayda

You could easily conclude from Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir of life after divorce, Eat, Pray, Love, that the best way to recuperate from a failed marriage is to run off Bali and have so much sex with your island lover that you get a bladder infection. Perhaps for Gilbert it was.

But who speaks for the newly single women who struggle to come up with $5.99 for a Christmas tree for their children? One answer is: Wendy Swallow, a former reporter for the Washington Post, who has written perhaps the best memoir of the decade about the collapse of a marriage.

Breaking Apart is a beautifully written account of social, emotional and professional effects of divorce on a mother of two boys, then ages 3 and 5, who was so frightened of going public with her separation that “it took me months to build up the courage to tell my parents.” A typically poignant moment occurs when Swallow picks her younger son up after his first overnight stay with his father and he is so amazed to see her that he cries, “You came back!” Swallow also writes with scathing candor about dating after divorce, including her experiences with older men – in their late 50s or early 60s – who had raised families and now wanted to have fun:

“With many of these men I felt as if I could have been just about anybody, as long as I was attractive and witty, because it was never about me. I often felt like a prop in a play – their play. I was perfect for them, they said, without ever asking if they were perfect for me.”

The sequel to Breaking Apart is a disappointment. Swallow’s second marriage involved unexpected problems – for her and for her new stepfamily – and her premature memoir of it has much less clarity and authority than her first book. Remarriage, she says, “destabilized” her sense of herself. It also destabilized her writing. Instead of offering the consistently original thought of Breaking Apart, she pads The Triumph of Love Over Experience with research and quotes from the sort of experts who appear regularly in pop psychological books and articles. Some of what she says is interesting:

“In first marriages, sociologists have found, happiness flows the parents to the kids. If the parents are happy, the children tend to be happy. But in remarriage, it’s the other way around: Happiness flows from the kids to parents … Unhappy children are, in fact, the biggest risk factor in whether a stepfamily makes it or not.”

But this kind of material is available elesewhere. And often The Triumph of Love Over Experience simply regurgitates therapeutic clichés, such as that “the key to sanity is letting go of those things you can’t control and focusing on those you can.” That may be true. But if you search for “control what you can control,” Google returns more than a half-billion pages. So while Breaking Apart transcends the subject of divorce, The Triumph of Love Over Experience has a much narrower appeal. At the end of the book, Swallow still seems to be wrestling with so many problems that she leaves you wondering if that word “triumph” in the title wasn’t intended, in part, ironically.

Best line: The first line of Breaking Apart: “As a fantasy, divorce has a lot to recommend it.”

Worst Line: In The Triumph of Love Over Experience, Swallow buys so heavily into the jargon of pop psychology that instead of admitting that things are a pretty much of a mess, she keeps using cloying euphemisms like: It was “challenging,” “it was a challenge,” and “that would be a challenge.”

Editor: Leigh Haber

Published: April 2001 (Breaking Apart), June 2004 (The Triumph of Love Over Experience).


Furthermore: The new The Honeymoon’s Over: True Stories of Love, Marriage, and Divorce (Warner, $24.99), edited by Andrea Chapin and Sally Wofford-Girand, deals with some of the same topics as Swallow’s books. This collection of original essays about make-or-break moments in marriages contains work by female authors who include Terry McMillan, Joyce Maynard and Martha McPhee.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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