MAXWELL:  Men’s stories

2/23/1997 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper

 

MEN ON DIVORCE

The Other Side of the Story

Edited by Penny Kaganoff

and Susan Spano

Reviewed by BILL MAXWELL

Sorting out longstanding myths about the differences between women and men is elusive. Authors Penny Kaganoff and Susan Spano learned this lesson after they finished compiling the essays for their book Women On Divorce: A Beside Companion.

They discovered that divorce is more complex than most people believe and that they had only one side of the divorce story, women’s side. In effect, they, like most writers before them, had left notions about how divorce affects men untouched.

Exactly how were men and women different? Do men, as the myth goes, rebound faster than women? “Given our personal experiences,” Kaganoff and Spano write, “we approached these questions with certain assumptions. . . . But ours were the assumptions of the culture at large, which has tended to view divorced men in stereotypical fashion _ as midlife crisis victims, absent husbands and fathers, unbearable abusers, inveterate playboys.”

But the authors made a mid-course correction and have published 15 new essays by men about men and divorce. Titled Men on Divorce: The Other Side of the Story, the anthology is a useful resource for anyone seeking a better understanding of the male side of marital breakup.

Listed alphabetically, the contributors are: Lawrence Block, Herb Boyd, Benjamin H. Cheever, Stephen Dobyns, Richard Gilman, Edward Hoaland, Walter Kirn, Tim Parks, Luis J. Rodriguez, Daniel Asa Rose, Jonathan Rosen, Ted Solotaroff, Michael Ryan, Michael Ventura and John A. Williams. Sober in tone and diverse in cultural and ethic scope, the anthology includes perspectives on divorce and most of its related problems in countries as far away as Japan and Italy.

Closer to home, Williams and Boyd reveal that, although the essence of marriage and divorce among African-Americans is similar to that of other cultures, black men face the additional threat of pervasive racial prejudice _ a force that often militates against healthy relationships.

Although the essayists debunk some of the stereotypes, they reaffirm several others. For example, many of the writers, such as Block and Solotaroff, describe going “serially from one woman to the next, repeating the same mistakes over the course of each involvement and arriving at the same failure.”

As far as the belief that men rebound faster than women, Dobyns’ experiences suggest that they do. But his tale, along with several others, also shows that men tend to idealize the institution of marriage and want perfection in their spouses. As a result, they often fall much harder initially.

Kirn, Hoagland and Rosen give credence to the myth that a familial history of divorce affects men in their own marriages. In his essay, “My Parents’ Bustup,” Kirn describes how the announcement of his parents’ divorce led directly to his own divorce. Rosen discovered at age 13 that his mother had been married before, and later struggles to keep his own marriage intact, while feeling totally betrayed by his mother’s failed experience. (The women in the co-editors’ earlier volume are also affected by having divorce in the families, but they seem to have put these broken bonds in better perspective).

Some of the men, even though they go on with their lives, never recover from the wrenching emotions of their divorce. Rose is an example. He shares a sadness and regret that will touch most readers and leave them with Rose’s own bittersweet feelings of being free, trapped and abandoned at the same time.

The co-editors compiled this anthology, they write, to “help men better understand themselves, and women better understand men.” Men on Divorce more than accomplishes that mission. It should be required reading for everyone in a culture that treats divorce as if it were one more rite of passage.

Bill Maxwell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Times.