Non-Fiction: How to Fall Apart
A decade ago, when my son was three, we started doing 'movie night' - watching films snuggled up in bed and eating sweets. Ten years on the snuggling and sweets have been replaced by pizza. I have never told anyone the details about movie night for fear of being judged, so I was thrilled to read in How to Fall Apart that Liadan Hynes does exactly the same thing with her little girl, including the pizza (her father and brother often squish themselves in too).
Hynes did things 'the right way'. At 26 she met the man she subsequently married and had a child; but when she was almost 40, she found herself suddenly single when her marriage failed.
How to Fall Apart is an honest recounting of how she coped, or didn't, in some instances. Hynes's marriage wasn't ripped asunder by cheating or poor behaviour but rather petered out, with both parties becoming uncomfortably aware that things were over. But even in these 'conscious uncoupling' times, a break-up is never easy, especially when there is a child involved. As Hynes puts it: "In the minefield of co-parenting, strewn with everything from the corpses of best intentions, to unexploded bombs of rage, how you intend things to go is usually quite far from how they do go."
Until the end of her marriage, Hynes had a fairly uneventful and happy life - she never endured a major trauma. But then "it felt for a time as if my future had closed down… (it was) a place full of gaping holes caused by the thing I had lost". Even though she is grieving the loss of her marriage (a gruelling process), she throws everything she can at coping with her new life as a mother, and non-wife.
She tries an exhausting list of "WooWoo" - life coaching, therapy, yoga, crystals ("a veritable entourage of healers and wise women that was positively Kardashian"), having been highly cynical about 'wellness' before her marriage ended.
Some sense does come from the WooWoo as Hynes realises that while she cannot choose her fate, she can choose how she reacts to it. Another lesson is the futility of comparing your internal struggles to the exterior of other people's lives. How to Fall Apart isn't really about the ending of a marriage but the beginning of a new life that Hynes is determined to forge for herself and her daughter.
One of the strongest themes of the book is the friendship and strength of other women - family and friends helped her through the worst and helped her celebrate the best. Hynes has a number of really solid female friends, and reading this it's easy to see why as she comes across as a lovely person, the type who would inspire great love and loyalty.
Ending a marriage, whatever the reasons may be, is a massive trauma for anyone. Hynes's life coach tells her: "Fear is everything. Fear is what blocks us. We can use other words - depression, anxiety, anger - but I use the blanket word of fear. Everything is fear." Alongside fear there is deep grief. Hynes endures profound heartache and an anger that she tries very hand to deny, because she's not one of nature's angry people. Yet she has no option but to get on with things for the sake of her daughter, despite finding that "running (a home) on your own as a single parent can feel relentless".
How to Fall Apart is a 'self-help' guide as well as a memoir. Hynes has negotiated the emotional and practical difficulties of 'starting over' and generously mapped it for the next woman in the same position. The chapters are short and to the point and the heading reflects exactly what is in each. They do not flow in a linear way and at first, I questioned the episodic nature of the narrative. However, as I read on, I realised that anyone just out of a relationship might find focus and concentration difficult and would appreciate the method of being able to go straight to the bit they want to read.
Above all, How to Fall Apart is one long love letter to Hynes's little girl, and that's beautiful.