Book Review of Happily Ever After Divorce

by Matilda Butler on July 1, 2009

Post #12 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

I’ve just finished reading Jessica Bram’s memoir, Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey and am eager to share my thoughts about it. Like many readers of our blog, I know that the act of divorce is painful. Nothing about it seems joyful, even if it is what you want. Yet that is the perspective that Jessica brings out in her writing.

Since we do our book reviews from the perspective of what a memoir writer can learn, I began to see this interesting twist in Jessica’s memoir. She found a compelling message for the reader in her experiences. If she had written about the divorce while it was going on or in the immediate aftermath, there would have been bitterness and loneliness flowing off each page. But she didn’t want to dump that mess in our laps. Instead, she waited long enough that she could reflect on the experience and on what she had made of her life after the divorce. She used the divorce as a turning point in her life.

Jessica doesn’t just put on a happy face, of course. We would reject as false a memoir that said the divorce was a great experience and that she recommends it for everyone. Instead, she shares the many small and large hurdles she encountered in the months and years following the separation. We understand that it was a hard time in her life. However, she helps the reader to see how she moved from the negative into the positive and crafted a better life for herself than she had during the marriage.

As a memoir writer, what can you learn? Remember the reader. What do you want that person to get from your memoir? Is it a message that informs, or enriches, or entertains, or inspires? Eventually, the memoir isn’t just about you. It is about the reader.

A few special goodies. Following are some of my favorite passages. They will give you a flavor of her carefully crafted descriptions and beautifully phrased personal insights:

“I imagined the anger pouring off me like tar, trailing behind in a hot, gluey swath. I vowed to think positive; I would try to imagine the tar of my anger coating the bumpy country roads and paths beneath me, leaving it smooth for the other bikers. But the more it poured off me, the more my unlimited supply seemed to remain. Had it been real tar, every dirt path in northeastern Vermont would have ended up paved to perfection.” p. 76

“One Halloween night, after a particularly awful fight with Bill, I retreated to the patio behind my house with a bag of miniature Milky Way bars and discovered how difficult it was to cry and to eat candy at the same time. This did not, however, stop me from putting away a good many Milky Ways.” p. 103

[At the end of her first solo trip to Rome] “I knew then that I had my own special sense of direction. In my version, the markings were not street signs, but emotions stirred by memory. The attractions weren’t plaques or piazzas, but the sensual feel of Italian street names on the tongue or the scent of espresso wafting from tiny cafes. My souvenirs that week were not postcards but adventures freshly gathered…” pp. 134-135

“The dark days of the divorce were behind me … It still seemed a daily miracle to wake up each day to fresh air instead of the dank smell of a dying relationship.” p. 225

“Although there was no one in m life at that moment, it was reassuring to know that there was still inside me, like a pilot light, a tiny flame burning very low.” p. 226

My personal list of favorite passages goes on and on. I’m sure you’ll find your favorites and I think they’ll inspire you to express your well-crafted story.

Let me conclude by briefly telling you about Jessica. Of particular interest is that she is the founder of the Westport Writers’ Workshop. She has written for national and regional newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Child Magazine, Women’s Journal, Sacramento Bee, and many others. In addition to writing, she is also an award-winning radio commentator and can be heard on “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”

Since Jessica is an experienced teacher of memoir writing, you’ll be interested in her guest blog and writing prompt. If you haven’t read it, CLICK HERE.

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