This month, I read the first of the three books on my MFA reading list for this semester. Here's what I thought of Breakup: The End of A Love Story by Catherine Texier.
Breakup: The End of A Love Story by Catherine Texier chronicles the dissolution of her marriage and family life over a period of several months. The book opens just after Texier’s husband of eighteen years has decided their marriage is over. Part of what makes this particular divorce story so compelling and heartbreaking is that Texier and her husband continue to live together, date each other, entertain family as a couple, and have plenty of sex together as their marriage crumbles beneath them. It is months before the author discovers that her husband has been having an affair for over a year and it is even longer after she makes this discovery that she finally forces him to move out.
Until the book’s final pages, Texier’s husband refuses to make a clean break from the marriage he claims to want to leave. She holds out hope that their relationship can be resuscitated while her husband’s words contradict his actions. They are locked in a self-destructive cycle as he refuses to move out, file for divorce, breakup with his girlfriend, or recommit to their marriage while she also refuses to move out, kick him out, hire a lawyer, or give him any kind of ultimatum. Her hope is that with patience and limitless freedom, her husband will come back to her.
The tone of the book as a whole is very much like a diary: personal, raw, honest, and unashamed. I cannot imagine reading a more intimate portrayal of a marriage. Although Texier doesn’t shy away from describing details about her sexual relationship with her husband, it is more her own emotional openness, personal vulnerability, and refusal to give up on her marriage despite her husband’s duplicitousness that paint such an intimate portrait of this couple.
In school we talk a lot about practical memoir. The current trend and preference among publishers seems to be for a memoir that also offers some practical advice or takeaway for readers. Breakup is exactly the opposite. Texier doesn’t pretend to have any advice for her readers when it comes to divorce and co-parenting. The value of her book for readers comes instead from her honesty and vulnerability in sharing her story. One of the great gifts that pure memoir gives readers is the sharing of a common experience. Texier doesn’t turn herself into a divorce guru like many authors of the equally valuable practical memoir may strive to do. Instead, she opens a window into her imperfect life in the hope that readers will gain something from that shared experience.
With the current popularity of practical memoir, is it easy to forget about the power and impact that such an honest and confessional diary-style memoir can have on readers. Breakup reminds us that teaching is not the writer’s only purpose. Sometimes the writer’s purpose is to share a painful truth in the hope that readers will recognize something of themselves and discover the healing power of common experience.