Reviews for This American Ex-wife

by Lyz Lenz

Publishers Weekly
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In this scorching memoir, former Rumpus editor Lenz (God Land) delivers a rousing pep talk to women contemplating divorce. Through a portrait of her own failed 11-year relationship, Lenz elucidates how the traditional role of the wife (who’s expected to take her husband’s name, perform housework, and give up her financial independence) often proves debilitating for women, even as myths perpetuated by TV, literature, and religious scripture insist that marriage is “worth it.” Homeschooled in an evangelical family of eight children, Lenz dutifully married, had two kids, and followed her husband to a broken-down house in Iowa in support of his career, even as her own floundered. Gradually, she began to feel constricted by their arrangement, and reached a breaking point when she discovered that her conservative husband had been hiding her left-leaning political mugs, as well as books he disapproved of, in their basement. Lenz supplements her personal narrative with research about the benefits of ending a marriage for women’s well-being (including a study that claims 74% of divorced women feel liberated by the process) and interviews with hundreds of women about their marriages and divorces. Lenz’s arguments about the inequalities baked into traditional marriages don’t break much new ground, but they gain immediacy thanks to her fiery tone. This is galvanizing stuff. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary. (Feb.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The joys of being unmarried. Journalist Lenz, author of God Land and Belabored, celebrates freedom, independence, and love in an irreverent memoir about her deeply unsatisfying marriage and eventual divorce. Drawing on interviews with women, newspaper and magazine reports, and academic studies, the author portrays marriage as “a political and cultural and romantic institution that asks too much of wives and mothers and gives too little in return.” Nevertheless, women face abundant cultural pressure to marry. Persuaded by movies, books, religious leaders, and their own parents, many women grow up convinced that finding a husband defines their self-worth: The roles of wife and mother become pinnacles of achievement. Government policies promote heterosexual, monogamous marriage by providing tax breaks and financial incentives to married couples. Even women with demanding, abusive, or unfaithful spouses are exhorted to stay married for the sake of their children. Country music, Lenz observes, pictures “our cowboys taking us away, claiming there is freedom in love.” Sociologists, cultural critics, and historians, though, have revealed widespread unhappiness consistent with her own experiences. Her husband resented her professional success. “The closer I came to achieving my dreams,” she writes, “the more my home life fell apart.” He constantly demeaned her, going so far as to take things of hers that he didn’t like and hiding them in a box. Finding the box set her on the “demolition project” that ended the marriage. “At what point is the misery worth it?” she asked herself. To women who worry that being a single parent is harder than having a husband, Lenz attests that divorce freed her to find help from a supportive community, have better sex, and achieve happiness for herself and her children. Far from being a sign of failure, divorce, she argues persuasively, can be a source of liberation. A well-researched, acerbic critique of a sacred institution. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.