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Love Is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts Paperback – July 28, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Breakups are hard to forget, and this collection—surprisingly restrained yet full of emotion—is equally memorable. Patty Van Norman's two-frame graphic story Dear Ugly, Dear Fatso (other graphic entries are from Lynda Barry and Emily Flake) resonates like a quick punch to the solar plexus. Josh Kilmer-Purcell writes of the lover who could only perform with Wonder Woman on the television. George Singleton urinates a bellyful of beer into his ex's kitty litter box. Maud Newton tells of a sex- and rage-filled relationship, wondering: was he the abusive one, or was I? Taeckens, publicity director at Algonquin Books, anthologizes modern heartbreak in stories replete with contemporary commentaries (e.g., using Match.com to express a new relationship status). In a book full of hits, Amanda Stern's Scout's Honor, about camping in the Washington Cascades, stands out. The collection's material could make one feel a bit voyeuristic, but throughout this tender book one instead feels like a privileged confidant. (July 28)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Pretty irresistible. Some of that has to do with the subject, of course: literature and heartbreak go together like Anna and Vronsky. And a lot of it has to do with the tone-the usual regret, shame, and pain are leavened here with a generous tablespoon of wry humor."
-Greg Cowles, New York Times "Paper Cuts"

"The humiliating and occasionally hilarious break-ups described in Love Is a Four-Letter Word...run the emotional gamut from neediness and infatuation to rage and disgust."
-Wall Street Journal

"Heartbreak, humor, humiliation, and self-discovery-it's all here in this collection. With crabs. And poignancy. And Wonder Woman."
-Shelf Awareness

"Love Is a Four-Letter Word offers flashes of insights from well-known writers about love gone wrong... The pieces sparkle with wit, pain and honesty."

"A book full of hits . . . Breakups are hard to forget, and this collection-surprisingly restrained yet full of emotion-is equally memorable."
-Publishers Weekly

"Honest, sad, witty, and fierce, here is a breakup anthology that will break your heart."
-ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

"Funny, poignant."
-Real Simple

"These dispatches from the deep dark depths of romantic doom will make you cringe, laugh, wince, sigh, laugh again, nod along in I've-been-there empathy, and recoil in thank-Jesus-I-never-went-there chagrin. Here's the end of love, or what sometimes passes for it, in all its many forms: wistful, bitter, confused, tender, regret-strewn, and sometimes freakin' deranged."
-JONNY MILES, author of Dear American Airlines

"As hard to avert your eyes from as a traffic accident . . . This is not a pity party. No, in the essays carrying the biggest charge here, the authors anatomize their own complicity and duplicity."

"The song says breaking up is hard to do, but the superb writers in The Book of Exes say heartbreak is just a little more complex . . . Hilarious, poignant, and insightful."
-JENNIFER GILMORE, author of Golden Country

"Rewarding and worth dipping into . . . Standouts include Junot Diaz's 'Homecoming, with Turtle,' Gary Shteyngart's 'Texas' and Maud Newton's 'Conversations You Have at Twenty.' Humorist Dan Kennedy, author of the acerbic 2008 memoir Rock On, crafts a hilarious piece about dating a divorced aerobics instructor a decade older than he."
-Kirkus Reviews

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone who has ever ventured into a relationship has a messy breakup story to tell, and this anthology throbs with tales of heartbreak and woe by the best and brightest of today's literary scene. In these deft, funny, and honest tales you're apt to recognize yourself on the giving end, on the receiving end and, God help you, on both ends."
-MARK SARVAS, author of Harry, Revised

"An alluringly voyeuristic collection of romantic cautionary tales, without the predictable happily- ever-after endings-at least 50 new ways to leave your lover."
-AMY FINE COLLINS, author of The God of Driving

"If I were able to write about my ex-girlfriends with this level of wit, passion, and insight, I probably would have a lot fewer of them!"
-KEVIN SMOKLER, author of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times

"Love is laid bare in these absolutely human stories, and in so many different ways that I understood more about myself than I could have ever entertained. The Book of Exes is an exquisite glimpse into the heart, into romance, into love. These words hurt and shine as much as their many landscapes, and I am left with a less broken heart for having read them."
-BRAD LAND, author of Goat: A Memoir and Pilgrims Upon the Earth

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452295505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452295506
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,369,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
FANTASTIC!! Read it if you're in love -- read it if you've ever been in love or wanted to be in love. Read it if you're stewing over a recent breakup. You'll find plenty in here to enjoy. This is a great collection of true break-up stories, told by some of the best writers around. The stories are at times profound, hysterically funny, and poignant -- one more witty than the next. Despite the title, I didn't find this to be a sad read. In at least one point during most of the stories, I found myself laughing out loud. At other times, I found the passsages so profound I had to share them with friends.

The stories are all over the place -- uniformly well-written, but in all shapes and sizes. The relationships range from gay to straight, young love, old love, unconsummated love, crazy sex addictions, crazy stalkers, roller-coaster relationships, May-December relationships, inter-continental relationships, some end with an explosion, some with a fizzle, some with death.

Kate Christensen writes of a romance during her sophomore year of high school -- with a classmate's recently-divorced dad who was (supposed to be) chaperoning the Spanish club to Mexico. Josh Kilmer-Purcell writes of his efforts to bed 25 men in celebration of his twenty-fifth birthday, with especially entertaining results with #7 and #s 17 & 18 (a couple). Gary Shtenygart writes of his sad Texas girlfriend, who "cried over the morning's cappuccino, cried over the evening's last espresso . . . " and taught him "there was a pain even a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor couldn't cure. A Texas-size pain, if you will." Dan Kennedy writes of a romance during his early twenties, with a driven aerobics instructor who had an apartment full of self-help books, ten years his senior .
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was a fun read, a sort of voyeuristic glimpse into the missteps, the hazards and the drama of relationships gone awry. Worth a giggle, but definitely not a self-help guide. These are bad relationships, remember?

Still, sometimes it can be soothing to commiserate with others who've had it as bad as or worse than we ever have. I also have to admit to luxuriating in a pool of smug delight upon reading a few of the more dysfunctional couplings ("oh, I'd never say/do/think THAT!")

Ultimately, though, upon finishing this book, I couldn't help but feel an endearing sense of admiration for our race as a whole...we risk a lot when we chose to love and commit, knowing that it doesn't always end well. But through the tears, the accusations, the loneliness, the despair, most of us emerge, scarred but not broken, ready to do it all over again. Recommended as entertainment.
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Format: Paperback
I was killing time at a bookstore, randomly picked this up and could not put it down - fantastic collection of love stories. It's not that I could relate to the stories too much but more to the emotions - all those crappy feelings that crash upon you like a wave when you break up. Reading how others have gone through the same s**t, in many cases even so much worse than what I had experienced, was comforting to know. Some were funny, some were sad - the only one that made me cry, for a solid ten minutes, was the last one by Wendy Brenner.

I would not recommend this as an educational book on love for a young teen (as seen from other reviews) - this is more for people who could already relate to love's highs and lows.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Love and relationships are complicated. This collection of experiences covers lots of ground. The rending of the human heart here is extraordinary. You will laugh, cry, talk to yourself about similar happenings in your life, ditch your idiotic romantic ideals and question just about every assumption you have made in your life and then some. This book has some fine young writers who write with an honesty and openness that befits the enormously mysterious and baffling world of love and relationships. These are the things people do to each other and for each other in the name of love told with articulate black n' blue humor. Buy it, read it, read it to other people, give it to other people, read it again, buy it for other people. You get the idea.
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Format: Paperback
Where's the love, I kept asking myself, and how can you have heartbreak without heart? And wasn't there alleged to be some humor in here somewhere? This pretty much explains all the picking it up and putting it down again that used up my first couple of weeks with this book and why I was considering, instead of writing a review, just endorsing comments in two other reviews here--the one that says the four letter word that this book is about doesn't start with "L," but with "F" and the one that found it impossible to wade through the opening story by Junot Diaz.

But then, hallelujah, at about the halfway point, when I'd just about concluded my problem was a different-generation thing, I came upon the brilliant and hilarious and insightful nine-pager by Brock Clarke that made all my prior grumbles irrelevant. After dropping everything and ordering Clarke's first novel from Amazon (only used ones were available, sad to say), I decided to trudge on. Happily, I found more gems in the back of the book and would particularly like to recommend: Jami Attenberg's story, which immediately follows Clarke's and reads somewhat like a companion piece; Amanda Stern on the Boy Scout boyfriend from hell; Pasha Malla's promising, but not quite satisfying, story of how his life imitated Ethan Hawke's "Before Sunset"/"Before Sunrise" movies (I can't help but think he could have made it better and tighter if he'd deigned to actually watch those movies before trying to imitate them); and, without question, this book's final and most powerful piece: Wendy Brenner's tale of lost love, brimming with all the heart and heartbreak and if-onlys I found largely missing from the first half, would be my nomination for the "must read."
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