When It Comes to Memoirs, Divorce Is All the Rage

This is the year of the dragon, the election — and the best-selling marriage memoir, if you subscribe to the idea that three’s a trend. First there was “More,” Molly Roden Winter’s tale of polyamory, which landed on the nonfiction list in February. Then the romantic tide turned, with two accounts of divorce amicably occupying last week’s No. 7 and No. 9 spots. Tempting as it might be to pit their authors, Leslie Jamison and Lyz Lenz — both mothers in their early 40s — against each other, resist the urge. We’re better than that.

And so are these chroniclers of uncoupling, conscious and otherwise. (“Thank you, Gwyneth Paltrow, for paving the way,” Lenz said in a phone interview, “but you have to be rich to consciously uncouple.”) When Lenz learned that her book “This American Ex-Wife” shared a publication date with Jamison’s “Splinters,” she reached out immediately. The two writers had crossed paths at a book party for Lenz’s third book, “Godland,” and were friendly in the way of people who have, at some time or other, approached social media as a break room for solo laborers. Lenz and Jamison swapped books in June, then exchanged warm messages right before their books came out.

“We’re both trying to upend narratives — or create new ones — in a way that I think is really resonating with women in America,” Lenz said. She went on, “There’s still this idea in our culture that marriage is the box you check off, this unimpeachable union. So many people get there and it’s less than what they thought it would be.”

As Lenz stared down the end of her marriage, she thought she was “going to get to the other side and be this big sad sack.” But, she said, “I wasn’t even that sad about it. I’m not sad about it at all. Why am I hedging?”

While Lenz worked on “This American Ex-Wife,” she listened to Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn,” narrated by Meryl Streep, four times. She immersed herself in works by Betty Friedan and Ellen Willis. “I also read three biographies of Princess Diana,” she said. “I remember having this thought: If she could divorce the royals, I can divorce a Midwestern family.”

Why are so many of us drawn to books about the end of marriage? “People love a mess. They love to rubberneck,” Lenz said. “I wanted to give people a book that lets them stop apologizing for breaking, falling apart, not being able to hold all the ropes.” She added, “So many other divorce books out there are like, Here’s how you hold the ropes. Here’s how you double Dutch. I wanted the burn-it-down lady to enter the chat and be like, But also? You can let go.”

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