There was an interesting interview today in the San Francisco Chronicle with Terry McMillan, author of bestselling novels like "Waiting to Exhale" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." The piece is pegged to promote her new book of advice for college students, "It's OK If You're Clueless -- and 23 More Tips for the College Bound." In it, McMillan covers topics like her son's first year as a student at Stanford, the death of her dog, her affection for her nine-lived cat Dilbert, and the fact that she's about ready to chuck her home of 10 years and move somewhere new. But the real backbeat to the piece is, naturally, her ongoing recovery from her very public, very excruciating divorce from husband Jonathan Plummer, 23 years her junior. McMillan met Plummer on vacation in the Caribbean 10 years ago, a twist that mirrored the plot of "Stella," the novel she had just completed. In December 2004, Plummer came out as gay, and the couple's breakup was endlessly chronicled. Plummer accused McMillan of homophobia; McMillan fought to keep him from getting her money.
But as I was reading this latest story about McMillan's emergence from the trauma of the end of her marriage, I thought: Why? So many people get divorced, for so many ordinary and awful reasons: Why is this one worse than so many others? Sure, the back-and-forth has been nasty, but that's true in many garden-variety acrimonious divorces. And unless an incredibly visible public couple splits with the intensity of say, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, it doesn't get the kind of coverage that McMillan's breakup has.
What's the draw here? Is the attention that has been paid to the end of McMillan and Plummer's marriage some kind of retribution for the improbability of their pairing? Does it appeal to everyone's latent conservatism about older women and younger guys? Were people so discomfited by the notion that a menopausal woman might mate with a strapping young man -- thereby defying nature! -- that they have felt a need to put a magnifying glass on the failure of that mating to show that it was never really meant to be? (And if so, have they seen today's Associated Press story about the 104-year-old Malaysian woman who just married a 33-year-old man? It is the groom's first marriage, the bride's 21st.)
Or are we just really entranced by the details of the alimony settlements of writers of popular fiction?