Okay so **all** is a bit of an exaggeration. The first book I actually loved, which propelled me to buy a second one exactly the same (which I hated) and stuck in my head long enough that I read the third (also hated). What genre inspired such a fervent love and hatred, you ask? The answer is simple. Divorced (or nearly divorced) people learning how to be divorced and also have a family.
I am a 22 year old woman in a very happy long term relationship and nowhere near marriage, so this might seem a bit of an odd choice of reading material. What you don’t know is that there is absolutely nothing I love more than hearing about other people’s drama. I don’t love gossip, per say, although I will always listen to a story. What I love is hearing you tell me about yourself. I want the first hand, all emotions still right there beneath the surface retelling. Divorced fiction from the point of view of the divorcee seemed like the perfect way to achieve that.
And it was.
I can complain about so many things that happened in these books, but what I can’t complain about is the drama. After I hated the second book, I picked up the third book because the drama was still there, and I was still laying on the floor of my living room craving some spice in my life. Basically, if my friends were a little less boring in their personal lives, I wouldn’t have wasted my time reading such shitty books.
The first book I started with was The Adults, by Caroline Hulse.
Goodreads Summary: Meet The Adults
Claire and Matt are divorced but decide what’s best for their daughter Scarlett is to have a ‘normal’ family Christmas. They can’t agree on whose idea it was, or who said they should bring their new partners. But someone did – and it’s too late to pull the plug.
Claire brings her new boyfriend Patrick, a seemingly eligible Iron-Man-in-Waiting. Matt brings the new love of his life Alex, funny, smart, and extremely patient. Scarlett, their daughter, brings her imaginary friend Posey. He’s a rabbit. Together the five (or six?) of them grit their teeth over Organized Fun activities, drinking a little too much after bed-time, oversharing classified secrets about their pasts and, before you know it, their holiday is a powder keg that ends – where this story starts – with a tearful, frightened, call to the police…
But what happened? They said they’d all be adults about this…
If you loved The Break by Marian Keyes or raved about The Rosie Project – look no further than The Adults.
I gave this book 5 stars. It had an incredible array of characters, and the book was centered upon the good humor and frequent jokes that each of them brought to the table. This made a book about two divorced couples feel very full and real. Even though it was a little bit absurd that they decided to have a full family Christmas vacation despite being divorced and remarried, somehow the book carried this plot and pulled it off well. I think this was strengthened by the fact that it wasn’t the only part of the plot. Yes, it was about two divorced people who were trying to function in a room together. However, the plot of the (to quote goodreads aka no spoilers) “call to the police” drama that is persistently hinted at throughout means that there is more to the story than just people.
The drama in this book was good, and knowing that it was literally going to end in disaster meant that we had something to look forward to aside from a quintessential happy ending. This book was everything I was looking for when trying to get a little second hand gossip.
After that, I turned to The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
Goodreads Summary: For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan.
But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.
This book received 2 stars. If you’ve taken time to look at my average ratings, you know that this is abysmal. The book was quite simply not good. Unlike the Adults, where the couple is already divorced, this couple was doing the most uncomfortable thing possible and trying to ignore the fact that their marriage is crumbling by going on a remote vacation with other people.
There could have been sooooo much drama and tension in this book, but unfortunately it was just not well executed. We as readers already knew everything about everyone, and the characters in the book also knew everything about everyone, even if they were pretending not to. This set up a lot of the conflicts to feel artificial. If this book wasn’t as short as it was, I almost definitely would not have made it through at all.
I didn’t let the bad ratings dissuade me though. I picked up This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.
Goodreads Summary: The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she’s pregnant…
This book actually won a total of 3 stars (still markedly lower than my average Goodreads rating of 4.2), which would make it better than The Vacationers, except for the fact that I also added a review. Keep in mind, I read this book long before I had ideas of starting my book blog back up again, so I only reviewed if it felt absolutely necessary. I wrote:
Let me get this straight. Objectively, this was a well written book. Most of the misogyny and homophobia comes from the characters themselves, but the way the book was written it is extremely unclear to me if Tropper believes what his characters are saying. In fact, while reading I felt strongly that he did believe this, and that they were his own beliefs being manifested on the page.
It is possible to write problematic characters without implicating yourself as problematic. In fact, this is part of what makes good fiction. Tropper spectacularly failed at this, instead passing off the most problematic parts of his work as simple facts of life that we all, deep down, also agree with. For obvious reasons, this left me with a bad taste in my mouth and made it hard to fully enjoy the book for the drama that it did contain.
For what it’s worth, this book had some of the best drama by far.
Those are the three books that absolutely took over a full month of my life, and NOT for the better. Hopefully I’m not the only one who has gone on a bad book binge knowing that the books are going to be bad the entire time. If you have, let me know so that I can avoid those books and also not feel so alone!