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Love Is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts Paperback – July 28, 2009
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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."
"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."
"Honest, sad, witty, and fierce, here is a breakup anthology that will break your heart."
-ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
"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."
"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
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A handful were excellent, a few I skimmed (not a fan of Junot Diaz, and his is the first one), and most were good reads, but not memorable. The best writers, I believe, can make us laugh and cry (like Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides). No story in this compilation succeeded in doing that, but the last one, by Wendy Brenner was deep, soulful, and affecting.
Some are by gay authors and some by straight folks. Frankly, that was the least noticeable difference. More obvious was the range of writing, insight, and ability to convey emotion, but that's to be expected in a book of this kind. If anything, the stories flowed quite seamlessly from one to the other. We have Mr. Taeckens, the editor, to thank for that.
Emily Flake's mini graphic novel was quirky and appealing. It's one of two in the book. Lynda Barry wrote the other one. I liked that they were included. It was different and gave some cred to a form that is finally getting well-deserved attention.
If reading about the dark side of love appeals to you, this should sate your craving.
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."
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.