Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Divorce for Beginners

By Jami Deise

While conventional wisdom states that half of all marriages will end in divorce, that statistic is actually more of an old wives’ tale that a true reflection of the state of marriage. Rather, divorce rates for first marriages peaked at 40 percent in 1980 and has been declining ever since. Today, it’s closer to thirty percent. Still, despite the trend in “starter marriages” that seemed to peak in the 1990s, it seems that most women in the middle of their child rearing years have several friends whose marriages have ended. Nearly seventy percent of those divorces are initiated by women (although the statistic doesn’t say whether the initiation was followed by the discovery of a husband’s adultery or other peccadilloes.)

British author Sophie King’s latest novel, Divorce for Beginners, takes an up-close and personal view on how divorce affects several characters, from the day they discovered their marriages were ending to 18 months later. The novel takes the point of view of four people: Lizzie, a magazine editor with two children who discovers her husband’s toothbrush at the home of her best friend, Sharon; Allison, a stay-at-home mom whose husband announces he’s leaving after they get home from taking their younger child to college; Karen, a classified ads salesperson and grandmother who has been separated for years; and Ed, a wealthy businessman who has been divorced twice, was recently dumped by his fiancĂ©, and who longs for children. The four are brought together when Karen impulsively decides to start a group, based on the belief that since she survived her split, she has the skills and knowledge – if no formal training – to help people throughout their personal crises.

I thoroughly enjoyed King’s short story collection, Tales from the Heart, and her novel, The School Run, was my favorite review book from 2012. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy Divorce for Beginners as much as the other two. While its format was similar to The School Run, featuring the point of view of multiple characters, the characters in Divorce for Beginners are not as likeable as in her previous novel. Even though her husband has impregnated her best friend, Lizzie still wants him back, engaging in juvenile attempts to gain his attention. Ed is ungrateful for the support he receives, judgmental toward the other group members, and self-centered. Although Karen and Allison are both strong and sympathetic, half of the novel is spent in the point-of-view of the less enjoyable characters.

Furthermore, King spends too much time dealing with the personal problems of people other than the main characters – Karen is overly involved with her son’s relationship, and Ed is supposed to be taking care of his younger stepbrother, Jamie, who is more interested in partying and drinking than schoolwork. Because of these subplots, the book feels overly long. Finally, Allison, the strongest and most likeable of the characters, is the subject of a hoax so cruel that it feels out of place with the other domestic dramas in the book.

However, each character shows growth throughout the course of the book. Allison, in particular, is an inspiring character, and the book is worth a read just to see how she copes with the complete upheaval of her life. King wraps up their stories nicely, and I do believe the changes that each character achieves could provide hope to readers who are in similar situations.

In any case, the book can provide comfort to readers by illustrating that there are always people who have it worse – even if they are fictional.

Thanks to Great Stories with Heart for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sophie King:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts. The premise sounds good, but the approach sounds off course.