Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Post-breakup reading material

A few weeks ago, I surprised myself by picking up “Eat, Pray, Love” from my bookshelf where it had been gathering dust for several years, and beginning to read it. It's one of those books that I was always sure I would hate just because it is so popular, along with “The DaVinci Code” and “The Kite Runner.” If I actually read them, I would probably love them just as much as everyone else does, but I prefer to maintain my self-image as someone who does not have mainstream tastes. If I can spot more than five people reading it on the subway, it's off my reading list.

Nonetheless, I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert's book because it is about a subject I relish these days: a painful divorce. And I loved many of the details in the beginning: her disastrous rebound relationship, the depression she suffered from for years after the breakup, her guilt, how she found herself penniless and homeless in her mid-thirties.... Bizarrely, I found myself getting angry at her as I read, since in her breakup she played the role of La Moustache. She was the one pretending to be committed to a relationship that she wasn't actually committed to at all, and even went so far as to try to get pregnant, praying each month that it wouldn't take. And guess what she did to try to get over the whole breakup experience? She went and traveled the world for a year. How cliché.

Midway through the book, while she's meditating in India, Gilbert forgives herself for what she did to her ex-husband and comes to terms with the divorce. (Really, Elizabeth? Already? Don't you think you deserve to feel guilty and miserable for at least another year or two?) I could see the writing on the wall: we were getting to the third, “Love” section of the book, and she was going to go to Indonesia and meet an amazing boyfriend and have lots of sex with him. I lost interest and put down “EPL,” vowing never to pick it up again. (I'll consider seeing the movie though.)

After that, I turned to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. The first book in this series is called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in English, but its original Swedish title is “Men Who Hate Women.” As far as I'm concerned, the latter title is much more appropriate, and could even be the title for all three books: “Men Who Hate Women, Parts I, II, and III.” The books are filled with one misogynist after another, and these are not David Letterman-style misogynists. These are the kind of misogynists who rape, kill and torture women, regardless of whether their victims are their own daughters, wives or sisters. In the third book, there's even a scene in which a character tries to recall whether he killed a woman or not, and is unable to; that's how casual it is. One victim's father and brother conspire to shoot her and bury her alive. A sadistic lawyer who is assigned to be guardian to a ward of the state rapes her. Policemen regularly refer to women as “bitches” and “whores” and other, worse words that I prefer not to repeat. I could go on; the three books are each well over 500 pages, and they are chock full of these details. It's enough to make one become a misandrist (and vow never to go to Sweden).

But the satisfying part is how all these men get their comeuppance. This skinny, 90-pound, tattooed girl goes around and, with a little help from some other good guys, makes these jerks suffer. She kicks the asses of armed thugs who are three times her size. She nails her brother's feet to the floor. She uses her intelligence and amazing computer skills to outwit high-powered, corrupt politicians and businessmen. And, just for fun, she gets a boob job. She's like a bizarre Swedish superhero with really bad social skills. They're not great literature, but they're an awful lot of fun to read.

Any suggestions for what I should read now that I'm done with the trilogy?


  1. So, it's another book that everyone (well, every woman?) has read, but after a bad breakup years ago, I read "The Lovely Bones." It was just what I needed - a really engrossing tearjerker that put my own grief in perspective.

    I have to say, though, I am a big fan of TV on DVD for post break-ups. Veronica Mars, especially.

  2. I once read lots of David Sedaris after a break up because it a) made me laugh and b) took no mental energy.

    I've never read the Lovely Bones... maybe I need to try it.

  3. Oh, I read David Sedaris too. Forgot about that one. It was my very first post-breakup read, and I only got partway through it. It was good for a while, and then he started to piss me off.

    Veronica Mars sounds like it would hit the spot. :)

  4. How about all of Ruth Reichl's books? They're just delicious to read and you get lost in her world.

  5. Now that you're back in New England, you might want to pick up John Irving's new book "Last Night in Twisted River". I'm halfway through it now and enjoying it. Books are a great escape. :o)