The Truth About Splitting Up

Suzanne Finnamore’s new book Split: A Memoir of Divorce comes with a warning. In her author’s note Finnamore writes, “These pages embark on a gritty and absurd journey. My telling of divorce is probably not for the squeamish or the morally impeccable. If you are any of these things, put this book back on the shelf. Do it now.”

She’s right. The book is not for the faint of heart. And yet her story is not simply that of a train wreck. Finnamore is smart and wry and often very, very funny. Her sudden plunge into grief, loss and single motherhood is nightmarish, but there is never a moment, even in the beginning, when we don’t have full confidence in her survival.

Split begins the evening Finnamore’s husband, who goes simply by “N” in the book, puts on his best sport coat, slings a gym bag over his shoulder and abruptly leaves her and their toddler son. “In my mind this is the formal beginning of the end… yet I know that this is not the real beginning of the end, this illusion, a false start. It is only a primitive marking in time.”

The book is divided into the five stages of loss—denial, anger, bargaining, grief, and acceptance—and the story unfolds in short scenes that feel more impressionistic than narrative. Like grief, divorce usually follows a fairly predictable route: the shock, the discovery of the other woman, telling the kid, negotiating the settlement, dividing the stuff. Seen through Finnamore’s eyes, this predictable path is nuanced and pebbled equally with triumphs (even her mother-in-law takes her side) and setbacks (late-night pleading phone calls and too much chardonnay).

“It’s about the things no one talks about except to their psychiatrist or their best friend,” she says from her home in Larkspur, where she lives with her son, now nine. “Women haven’t written about their own divorces with any real blood on the pages. Most accounts are either the tar-and-feather approach to the ex or they are very P.C. and staid. This is the kind of book I wished was available when I was first left. So I decided to write one because I couldn’t find it.”

What is especially refreshing, aside from Finnamore’s unblinking honesty, is the lack of false cheer or a pat ending. She survives and in many ways flourishes — the facts that she now considers her ex a friend and wrote a good book about the ordeal are just two examples of this — but not because of a new Prince Charming, an inspiring guru, or some psychological breakthrough. She does have a mother who’s full of zingers and some very supportive friends, but mostly, Finnamore slogs through. She wails, she takes up smoking, she says unkind things, she lives on Cheetos and KFC Original Recipe.

And in the end she comes out capable and intact and able to prune her own yard and support herself and her son. She even still believes in marriage. When asked if she could ever see herself getting hitched again, she considers. “I would marry again provided I was in my right mind.”


Excerpt from Split: A Memoir of Divorce:

Since all of this began, I have lost 26 pounds. I can wear a size six bikini again. It is a benefit. I chalk it up. When people see me they say, “You look great!”

“My husband left me,” I say gaily.
They say, “Oh no.”
“Oh, yes,” I say.

I have slimmed down because I do not eat, having recently discovered that it is a largely superfluous activity that grief and/or shock cancels out. When I do eat, it is things like Sugar Babies and Cheetos. I have two Chips Ahoy! cookies at the end of each day: my reward for not hanging myself with a bra in the garage.

I am also saving scads of money at the supermarket. I buy no meat, no thick steaks or pork chops or turkey basil sausages. My refrigerator is still crammed with condiments, meat and condiments being the mainstay of most men. But I have no man now. I am like a movie: No Man Of Her Own.

I feel halved, and something else which I cannot quite admit to myself: giddy.