Posts Tagged ‘and divorce’

Suzanne Finnamore's Trilogy

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

A few months ago I cam across a blurb about a book called Split: A Memoir of Divorce by novelist Suzanne Finnamore. As it turns out, this was the third book in a trilogy, the first two being Otherwise Engaged and The Zygote Chronicles. I read the books out of order, but I will review them in order. Otherwise Engaged was published in 1999 by Knopf, The Zygote Chronicles was published in 2002 by Grove Press, and Split was published in 2008 by Dutton.

While the books are considered to be novels, they seem autobiographical, because the first book says that the author lives in northern California with her husband and son, while the third book notes that she lives in northern California with her son. No mention of a husband. So, my conclusion is that this trilogy, which spans nine years, is actually her life as an engaged, married, and divorced woman. (In the last book, the writer is clearly writing about herself.)

Finnamore has a sharp wit and an edgy way of writing about these three important events in her life: getting engaged and marrying, struggling to get pregnant, and then dealing with a divorce she did not initiate.  Perhaps the best way to show you her writing style is to list some quotes as well as a comment or two from the book flaps.

In about 210 pages of Otherwise Engaged, the author leads us through the angst of planning a wedding, which the inside cover calls “the excruciating ritual otherwise known as modern marriage.” Here are three excerpts that I hope display her quirky humor:

“We went to look at rings together, at Shreve’s……I found it last week, when I cased the place alone….It’s a carat, in a simple four-prong solitaire setting. That’s a lie. It’s .81 carat. I round up.” (p. 13)

“A warm night, the scent of wet leaves sidling in the open window. We are in bed with our laptop computers.  It’s the new sex.” (p. 127)

After putting on socks to walk around in her wedding shoes, Finnamore writes, ” I hobble around the house. Michael sees the shoes, but I don’t care. We won’t have any good luck anyway. I think about backing out. But shoes don’t seem enough of a reason.” (p. 204).

Otherwise Engaged, which Mademoiselle Magazine called “bitchy, bold, and brilliant,” is available on line at Just click on the icon below.

The Zygotes Chronicles is the second book in Finnamore’s trilogy and deals with her efforts to become pregnant in her mid-thirties. On the inside flap the book is described as the author’s “singular version of the next leg of her journey (after marriage) —a riotous and poignant novel in journal form that takes us from conception to delivery room.”

In her now familiar sassy, smart alecky style, Finnamore writes about her efforts to conceive and all that happens in between, including her ups and downs at work, until she finally finds herself birthing a son named Pablo.  Here are a couple of quotes from this 125-page book:

“I’m going to tell you about us, so you won’t feel uniformed later. Ignorance is the backbone of oppression.” (p. 5- talking to her unborn baby.)

“Now that I’ve come out as a breeding woman, I feel concern…I may have to compensate in some way. I may have to start going to meetings.” (p. 15)

“I worry that I will become nothing at all…..I resolve to remain a  person, and not to be sucked into a place from which I am unable to return. The place where so many women go and are never seen again…” (p. 27).

The book ends with Finnamore telling the reader that her baby’s name is Pablo, but his Jewish name is a secret in case someone tries to come and take him back. But she tells her baby, and of course, we read it as well. She says, “Your Jewish name is Chaim. This means life.” (p. 124)

The second book ends with a poem by Rumi, a perfect ending. The Zygote Chronicles is available from Amazon. Click on the icon below. (Note: My photo of this book is an earlier version and not the same cover as the picture above, but the same book.

The third book, Split, the longest of the three by Suzanne Finnamore (253 pages) is the one most of you will probably find relevant, since it is all about the author’s divorce. The book flap describes it well: “At once funny, achingly sad, and unflinchingly fierce, this story will resonate with anyone who has endured the end of a relationship and come out the other side changed.”

The Contents reads like the list that Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross used to describe the phases we go through when  a loved one dies: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, and Acceptance. The comparison is right on, at least for me, because my divorce did feel like a death—the death of my marriage.

On page 15, Suzanne writes in italics: “I didn’t think this would happen to me, I didn’t think it could happen to me, I don’t want it to happen to me.” (I felt the same way, walking around muttering to myself, I can’t be getting a divorce! It can’t be me going through this.)

On p. 29, she writes: “I travel back in time, falling back into what I know for certain, the historical data I cling to in order not to go mad, not assume I made a suicidal and well-informed error in marrying this man.”

In the chapter called Anger, the author writes, “From a distance it looked like a good marriage. I had almost convinced myself it was like that up close.” (p. 70) Here, Finnamore is starting to own up to her true feelings.

The author starts to make lists, like How to Tell a Liar and Techniques to relieve grief (ex. naps and keeping a journal) from what she calls “Bereavement Overload.” (I wrote poems to cope with my grief.)

In Bargaining (Chapter III) Finnamore opens the chapter explaining that she and her estranged husband are reviewing the first draft of their divorce settlement. She writes, “Next to me N (the name for her husband) floats in  parachute of his own design: He wants the divorce, I don’t. He pushed me, I fell. I plummet; he pulls the ripcord and feels a refreshing lack of weight or gravity.” (p. 135)  (The night before my husband left he was very nice to me and I asked him why he was so nice, now. His answer was that now he didn’t have to be responsible for me. He was relieved.)

In the last chapter, Acceptance, we read how Suzanne Finnamore copes with the finality of divorce with these words: “I deserve happiness. And N will always be part of my life, because of A (their son): Nothing is perfect and nothing is wrong.” (p. 242). (I was not as accepting as the author and I admire her for her ability to move into the next part of her life, unencumbered by anger and grief.)

The book ends using the metaphor of the Hale- Bopp comet that appears only every 78 years, so you have to go up the hill to see it. “Because you have to see the comet, and because it is rare and precious, even if it ends.” (p. 253).

Split is available from Amazon by clicking on the icon bellow:

I loved all three of these books, because of Suzanne Finnamore’s honesty,feminism, irreverence, ability to express her feelings, her sense of humor, and her ability to spill her guts without making us feel sorry for her. Rather, I admire her ability to put all her feelings, good and bad, in a chronology that helps us understand her life, identifying with much of what she writes and being proud of the way she handled her divorce. Hats off to Finnamore for a  marvelous, if sometimes difficult, story of life and how to roll with the punches.

Note: Each book is less than $25.