The infamous Shakespeare quote “Parting is such sweet sorrow” came to mind as I closed the cover of THE DIVORCE PARTY. Instead of a lighthearted banter about divorce parties ala the chic set, I found a riveting story about love that causes us to reflect on our own relationships as we read about the events of Gwyn and Thomas Huntington’s early love and 35-year marriage. As we see the outward signs of Gwyn and Thomas’s relationship --- a photograph on the wall of a smiling, happy couple who have the look of love --- we realize it could be any one of us. Now Gwyn and Thomas are getting ready for a divorce party to celebrate their parting with a toast from a bottle of 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild.
Gwyn sets an elegant and surprisingly vindictive stage for her own divorce party. Hiring your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s lover to cater this event at the family estate, Huntington Hall, is a gusty move, and there is an impulse to cheer for Gwyn. Gwyn has read that a “graceful” divorce party is in vogue and “a parting ritual” that can help all family members “replace animosity with harmony.” Gwyn’s journey through the 35 years of her marriage, the memories, the divorce-eve sex with Thomas, the conversations with her children and with herself dominate this vital look at love. With statistics hovering around at 50% of marriages ending in divorce, we wonder, Should Gwyn have reflected on her marriage sooner? Would it have made a difference?
Everywhere we turn, mass media, authors and screenplay writers are trying to dissect relationships and portray them with accuracy and tell love stories. I write this review on the day after having seen the new Sex and the City movie. Relationships are at the heart of the storyline. Carrie asks Mr. Big, “Am I the one?” Thomas lies repeatedly to Gwyn in THE DIVORCE PARTY. Clearly, choices, secrets, affairs, red flags and fears define our relationships. Laura Dave writes, “Can you ever know anyone?” Can anything save you from divorce --- beauty, money, sacrifice? I wondered how many readers have asked themselves these thought-provoking questions.
When do you know a marriage is over? Up to the last moment, before the parting toast, Thomas treats Gwyn with civility, going through the motions of his marriage as if it were just another day. In Thomas’s old patterns, the reader sees some of the reasons why they are about to host a divorce party. Gwyn knows Thomas better than he knows himself and forces him to acknowledge his secret lover, Eve, in front of her at the gathering. His lack of reaction to the meeting between Gwyn and his new lady reaffirms his weak character. We are left thinking that she’s better off without him, but our heart breaks when Gwyn realizes in that moment that Eve is “first” for Thomas and the last bit of hope drops out of her. Gwyn reveals, “…even if she knew it was all going to end here, Gwyn would have chosen him anyway.” Dave gets to the heart of true love in a way that makes the reader believe in love in the face of divorce.
Attending the divorce party are Gwyn and Thomas’s two grown children --- 33-year-old Nate and 25-year-old Georgia, who are involved in new and already complicated relationships of their own. Nate has a new love and is bringing home his fiancée, Maggie, for the first time. When Maggie finds out about Nate’s secrets, she wonders if she will end the day with or without him. Where do they go from here? “There’s no starting over, Nate,” she says. “So, we’ll figure out a way,” he says, “To start here.” Georgia and Denis have a young love, one that is new enough to try hard to believe and not disappoint. In vivid contrast, Dave poignantly writes Gwyn’s thoughts about her impending divorce: “She isn’t angry. She isn’t hopeful. She is simply done. Gwyn is done trying to pick up what cannot be saved.” Dave paints all the faces of love with unnerving insight.
Love is an ever-changing story, one whose ending is unfinished. Is divorce the new happily ever after? Each writes his or her own love story for better or for worse. Let’s not forget the power of romance. “Any love story can end well.”
Reviewed by Hillary Wagy on December 29, 2010