Burning the keepsake wedding invitations

Suzanne Finnamore on her memoir of divorce.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Published April 25, 2008 5:25PM (EDT)

Wrenching and hilarious, "Split: A Memoir of Divorce" by Suzanne Finnamore chronicles the emotional fallout when the author's husband leaves her for another woman. Finnamore recounts the obligatory couple's therapy postmortem, the well-meaning yet infuriating advice from friends to just "let it go," and the cathartic burning of the keepsake wedding invitations and photos on the family barbecue at 3 a.m.

Finnamore, author of a novel about being engaged, "Otherwise Engaged," and a novel about pregnancy, "The Zygote Chronicles," also wrote about her divorce for Salon back in 2002. The New York Times published an excerpt from "Split" in its Modern Love column here.

Finnamore, who throughout the book refers to her ex only as "N" and their son as "A," lives with her son, now age 7, in Marin County, Calif. She e-mailed with Broadsheet about her memoir:

What was the hardest thing for you about being a mother while going through your divorce? How did having your son help you cope?

The hardest thing about being a mother when it all hit the fan was simply remaining vertical.

My son kept me from starting the day with a cigar and a bottle of Night Train. He kept me alive and in the moment, instead of saying, "What the hey, it's all illusions!" and swan-diving off the roof. He kept me from losing the house and giving up entirely, when giving up seemed the only sensible and doable option. My son made me laugh and feel joy when my heart was in a lockbox under the house. He kept me from screaming and keening into the telephone all day and night -- I only did this for a few minutes a day, when he was napping.

You felt your husband's leaving was not only a rejection of you but of your son as well, even though your ex stayed involved in your child's life. How did you cope with that?

I coped with it by not wearing my glasses when my son's father came to pick him up. I can't see without my glasses -- I am extremely nearsighted. In my eyes, my ex became a blob; anyone can deal with a blob. I see now that I was just closing my eyes and treading water and acting this part of the Good Divorced Wife, the Good Ex-Wife, as if I could still make an impression that mattered! This performance was a sequel to my act of the Good Wife, a play that folded in five years, I might add.

You write that you felt a loss of status in going from being a wife and mother to being a divorced, single mother. What does that say about how we define success? Do you think that this is different for men and women in divorce?

Our culture defines a woman's success by having a marriage and children. All you need to do is watch television for five minutes to see this. Men can leave home, run off to the nearest Hooter's and get engaged while they are still married; wives and women are frowned upon if they leave their children to go to work. It's not only unequal, it's perversely unequal.

Can you imagine how friends and relatives would treat a mother who left her children and moved across the country? Now imagine a man who gets divorced and whose job takes him to a different state. He is lauded for keeping in touch with his children at all. He's a good guy if he calls every Sunday. It's a double standard, and it is an extreme double standard.

What did you learn in this experience you wish someone had told you before you went through it?

When your husband talks about his "happiness" in vague terms and calls you jealous and insane and runs out and files for divorce, there's always another woman. Always. Unless there is another man.

What's the worst thing that a married person can say to someone who is going through a divorce?

"You're so lucky it's happening now, while your son is still an infant."

What's the best thing a married person can say?

"What can I do? What do you need? Would you like me to come over right now?"

How did you feel about revealing what you felt and did during the divorce so publicly in your book? Were you afraid to do so, or was it cathartic?

I was very nervous to write this as a memoir. I think I still felt married, in some soul sense, as though loyalty were owed, as though I still had to keep all the secrets of the betrayal. But once I did it, it became a lot less frightening. It's just a book, it's just a true story. Nothing that happened to me is particularly strange or uncommon.

That's why people spark to the book: It is the story of something that happens every day to millions of spouses across the nation and worldwide. I have very little fear -- with the exception of the death of my child, the worst thing I could imagine could happen has already happened. Other people judging me is of no concern to me, as long as I maintain my own integrity and am the best possible mother I can be. I own my experience and I own my voice.

Did your ex read the book? What did he think of it?

He who?

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Katharine Mieszkowski

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