Women in the World

09.07.12

The Most Spectacular Literary Divorces: Nora Ephron, Rachel Cusk, & More

When writers separate, the dissolution becomes material for some pretty explosive books. Jessica Ferri picks some of the best.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most marriages in the United States will end in divorce. And when writers divorce, the dissolution of their marriage becomes material for their next book. Just this month, Rachel Cusk, the author of Arlington Park and a memoir on motherhood, A Life’s Work, has published an account of her divorce experience in Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation. Here are a few other examples of writers who have made literary gold out of saying, “I don’t.”

Heartburn
By Nora Ephron


What would the genre of romantic comedy be without Nora Ephron? It would be stupidly sentimental. Ephron’s only novel, Heartburn, is a hilarious roman à clef of the dissolution of her marriage to her second husband, Carl Bernstein. Ephron’s alter ego, Rachel, discovers that her husband is having yet another affair, and this time he’s “in love.” Devastated and seven months pregnant, she flees Washington, D.C., for New York, where she’s mugged during a group-therapy session. You just can’t make this stuff up, unless of course, you’re Nora Ephron. RIP.

Arlington Park
By Rachel Cusk


Unlike Ephron, Cusk goes straight for the jugular in this novel, taking five London couples to task, all at varying stages of their relationships. Kids, infidelity, sex, no sex, and parenthood are all fair game in this suffocating suburban nightmare where materialism is king and you’re lucky to get out with your soul. Even single people might seriously debate taking the marital plunge after reading this novel.

Falling Apart in One Piece
By Stacy Morrison


Morrison’s divorce memoir is earnest and to the point—it deals with her struggle to stay positive and to raise her family after her husband of 10 years announces that he wants a divorce shortly after their first child is born. One night you’re making an arugula salad, the next you’re getting a divorce. Formerly the editor in chief of Redbook magazine, Morrison’s journey will appeal to women who have to juggle the personal struggle of divorce on top of their careers.

Ariel
By Sylvia Plath


When Plath found out her husband Ted Hughes was cheating on her in 1962, she didn’t even consider giving him another chance. Though Hughes later claimed they were headed towards reconciliation at the time of her suicide, her letters to her mother speak otherwise. Her final collection of poetry, Ariel, contains some of the most intense writing about betrayal, including these lines from her magnum opus, “Daddy.” “I made a model of you/ A man in black with a Meinkampf look/ And a love of the rack and the screw/ And I said I do, I do … If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—/ The vampire who said he was you/ And drank my blood for a year,/ Seven years, if you want to know.”

Cleaving
By Julie Powell


Powell is the author of Julie and Julia, adapted and directed for the screen by fellow divorce memoirist Nora Ephron. Those who saw the movie may remember a bit of discord between Julie and her husband, which was, unfortunately, true to life. After publishing Julie and Julia, Powell began a lengthy affair and needed to escape from her troubles. The resulting memoir, Cleaving, is Powell’s account of finding herself through the art of butchering. Whatever works!

The Family Dinner
By Laurie David


Though not a divorce memoir per se, this cookbook by the ex-wife of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David contains an entire chapter about dealing with divorce when it comes to eating as a family. Laurie David makes the controversial claim that the family should still eat together in spite of the parents’ divorce and even recommends a recipe for “divorce brownies.” David is now a regular contributor to The Huffington Post’s Divorce page.

Eat, Pray, Love
By Elizabeth Gilbert


Perhaps no living author has turned their personal heartbreak into literary gold better than Elizabeth Gilbert, whose spiritual memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, was devoured by women all over the world only to be transformed into a major motion picture starring none other than Julia Roberts. Yeah, yeah, my marriage broke up, but then I got paid to travel the world and write this book which spent 185 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.  Gilbert then went on to publish Committed, about her decision to remarry.