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Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection


Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection

DISCLOSURE: I don’t know Beverly Willett. She found me through Facebook or Butler and asked if I’d look at her manuscript, and I had her send two chapters, and they were so compelling I asked for more, and soon I’d read the whole thing and sent her this blurb: “This is the book Sheryl Sandberg might have written if she hadn’t been rich. Beverly Willett had the dream: husband, children, career, and that most important New York achievement, a house in Brooklyn. And then she just had…her kids. She didn’t ‘lean in,’ she sucked it up, moved on, and built a new life. DISASSEMBLY REQUIRED is more energizing and inspiring than a triple espresso.”

That’s the short take. The longer one is considerably more harrowing. One morning Beverly Willett checks her husband’s phone and, on his voicemail, hears an unrecognizable woman say she loved him. After 20 years of marriage? After two children, then 7 and 12? Has Jake lost his mind?

She wanted to save the marriage, but you know how this story plays out. Well, you don’t know the details in detail, but there’s a reason --- DISASSEMBLY REQUIRED is more about re-assembly than the predictable wallow in despair and recrimination. Yes, there are nights of looking at bottles of tranquilizers and trying to calibrate how many she needs to take to sleep forever. And she loses 23 pounds in a few months, shrinking from a size 12 to a 2. But her daughters make bubble baths for her, bring her cookies, read Little House on the Prairie to her. These are good things. She is loved. She can live on that.

"The book has a radiant ending: new life, refreshed spirit. A door closes, a window opens --- a cliché, but here it’s true."

Her business in these pages is to move forward, and to tell us how she did it, and what it involves, on the full range of levels: practical to spiritual. Because she is 50. And because, 10 years ago, she gave up a successful career as an entertainment lawyer to be a stay-at-home mom. And now she must find work and keep her kids in their comfy rooms in their Brooklyn home.

The house. A four-story Victorian brownstone in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens. It is everything to Beverly Willett. She will crush rocks, pull wagons, kill wild animals with her teeth if necessary --- she cannot move her kids from the house. The Flannery O’Connor quote at the front of the book says it all: “It’s just about as poignant to be torn from a house as it is from a person.”

When Jake moved out, he said magic words: “I’ll be fair and generous. I’ll give you and the kids whatever you need.” That included the house: “I realize what moving will do to the children.” And with that, she was relieved: The foundation of the American dream was solid.

Then Jake moved to New Jersey, where he could get divorced without his wife’s consent. Which, seven judges later, he did. “You’ve offended every working parent in the courthouse by becoming a stay-at-home mom,” the judge --- a woman --- lectured her. Jake immediately remarried.

Four years pass. The girls move into their own lives. It is time to sell the house. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

But wait! The house is full of history. And stuff. Most must be sold or given away. Important papers --- and they’re all important, aren’t they? --- must be sorted. And, of course, some of his things are still there.

A tedious process, and it starts to be tedious to read. Then you get it. This is the heart of the book. Women’s work. The work that men leave to women when they leave women. Described here more thoroughly than you have ever seen before. It’s powerful.

I think because Beverly Willett dedicated the book to her kids and her kids have a relationship with their father, she notes big events almost in passing. Jake files for sole custody. He leaves a message on her answering machine: “No man in your lifetime is ever going to love you.” He ends child support, knowing that will send her back to court and knowing she… just… can’t. More to the point she wants to make here, Willett tells us how she throws herself into spiritual practices that she prays will transform her. And, by God, they do.

The book has a radiant ending: new life, refreshed spirit. A door closes, a window opens --- a cliché, but here it’s true. Beverly Willett is the very model of a Good Person. But I think I speak for lesser mortals --- decent men and angry, wronged women --- when I say I could go for some modern-day Biblical justice here. Karmic punishment, if you prefer. Like: there should be an audiobook. And Jake should have to read his part in it. Just that. His words. His voice. For all the world to hear.

Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth for on September 6, 2019

Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection
by Beverly Willett

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Post Hill Press
  • ISBN-10: 1642931500
  • ISBN-13: 9781642931501