Picks and Pans Review: Divorce: a Bedside Companion

updated 10/30/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/30/1995 01:00AM

edited by Penny Kaganoff and Susan Spano

Divorcées will probably pick up this book seeking the comfort of others who have made this miserable and increasingly common American rite of passage. They will have notable company reading essays by 14 women writers including Ellen Gilchrist, Anne Roiphe and Perri Klass that offer a smorgasbord of marriages torn asunder. There are unions undone by a cheating husband or a wife's foolish naïveté, ex-spouses who remain the best of friends or enemies whose anger is on perpetual simmer.

Time has brought many of these women an understanding of their folly in choosing a spouse who resembled a parent, marrying to meet the expectations of others. But not all their wounds have healed; there's still that nagging feeling of failure, the mental self-flagellation for saying "I do" even when a relationship—at least in hindsight—was so troubled. Still, these women have no regrets about their break-ups; divorce "is a very good idea," writes Gilchrist, summing up a universal sentiment. "It's certainly better than a loveless or ill-suited or painful marriage."

The book has its dubious insights, overwrought metaphors and failed attempts at irony and humor, and one soon tires of listening to only half the story (a men's volume is in the works). Still, there's a collective wisdom in its rueful aftertaste which is both bitter and good. Daphne Merkin is right when she notes-that any marriage can last—depending on "how tolerable the partners find it to be." But damned if these writers can say just what makes for the real thing. Mary Morris will stand by her man "because the mystery of love remains a mystery," she writes, "and when he lies down beside me, I know I can sleep." (Harcourt Brace, $22)

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