Breaking Apart:
A Memoir of Divorce

by Wendy Swallow


Hyperion, 2001. ISBN 0786865997.
Reviewed by Maggie Knorr
Posted on 08/09/2001

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

"People say marriages break up, but mine finally broke down."

This is how Wendy Swallow, a former staff writer for the Washington Post and currently a journalism professor at American University, describes the end of her marriage.

In Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce, Swallow tells us how she met her husband and describes the warning signs that she didn't heed. With straight-forward honesty and 20/20 hindsight, she relates the ways she ignored her better instincts and ended up in an unlivable situation. Her memoir is a poignant account of divorce, a subject that people usually prefer to ignore.

As Swallow begins her narrative, I can identify with her situation. She had been involved in a couple of relationships that were not good for her because of a need she saw in the person's life. She was looking for purpose in her own life and a cause to live for. When she met her husband, she saw someone who needed her and offered her stability. He knew what he wanted in life and was working toward it. He was also 10 years older.

Before they married, Swallow had some indications of her husband's temper and bursts of anger and experienced more of it after they were married. Perhaps I related so fully to this book because I was in a similar situation. I can't remember if I had much of an indication of my husband's temper before we married, but a few months after we were married it became obvious. By this time, however, I was already expecting our son. Swallow let her husband persuade her to have children a few years after they were married, despite her growing misgivings about their relationship and the state of their marriage.

As I began reading Breaking Apart, I identified deeply with Swallow. Knowing that the book was about divorce, I had to put it aside for awhile because it was depressing me. Once I returned to her story, however, I realized that her problems were continual, while mine are periodic. Our situations are not as similar as I had at first thought, and I felt less depressed.

Breaking Apart is painful and depressing, but an important and essential book for our time. Reading this book, others may be encouraged to work harder at improving their marriage, as I have been. Or perhaps it will help some women decide not to marry, or to end an unhealthy relationship before they find themselves in a similar situation. Swallow's account also dispels whatever 'divorce fantasies' women may have about it being the perfect, painless answer to their miserable marital situation. She writes:

"Divorce, like marriage, turned out to be a game with two players. In all those years of silently indulging my divorce fantasy, it hadn't occurred to me that I needed to consult my husband, that divorce was something we were going to do together. Divorce, as it turned out, was the last act of marriage, the final dance. And true to form, we had a lot of trouble agreeing on the steps."

If you are considering divorce or beginning the process, this is an invaluable book to read. Swallow made mistakes in her choice of a lawyer and has some helpful advice for what is in your best interests. Breaking Apart is a no-holds-barred account that should be read by every woman, regardless of her situation.

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