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Jul 29

Book Review: A Beautiful Terrible Thing

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and BetrayalA Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite

I honestly thought I would like this book more, since I went through something so similar. It should have hit me right in the feels, as if someone who also lost her father as a child read Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes. I mean, how common is “woman finds out her beloved is a cheating douchebag?” It’s almost like a coming-of-age trope. The first true love. The first time someone important dies. This book is “the first time the person you loved most in the world betrays you for the most grotesquely selfish reasons and you have to pick up the pieces and move on.” I mean, it’s so common. There’s a reason why “divorcing his wife and running off with the secretary” is such a stereotype.

Waite tries to make this book have a unique angle by playing up the idea that her husband was a psychopath or a sociopath. (Don’t get your hopes up that this will be some dark and tense psychothriller. He’s just a lying cheater.) She even gets her therapist to agree that he is a sociopath. Waite asks “Why? Why would a man do this? Why would he tell his wife he loved her over and over, even while he was sleeping with some bimbo?” Um, because he’s selfish? Because lying gets him what he wants: a baby and someone to care for the baby, but a few pieces on the side as well? I mean, it didn’t seem like she needed to use Dr. Google to psychoanalyze someone. If there were a nature guidebook for men, under the species of “lying douchebags who cheat on their wives and lie to her face about it” you’d see “common/invasive” and the entire map would be colored in as both summer and winter habitat. This sort of man is not thin on the ground.

Because I’ve been through something so similar, I found myself comparing and contrasting my behavior with hers. My first thought was that she threw in the towel pretty damn early, which probably saved her a lot of time in the discovery to divorce path. One suspicious email and she’s packing her bags to stay with her parents eight hours away. One suspected affair and that’s it, her marriage is totally over. I should have admired her for not putting up with shit, but I couldn’t help thinking “wow, is she fragile.” Not a stiff upper lip kind of woman. Maybe that’s because of my own experiences. It was like a Kosovo survivor listening to her neighbor complain about how horrible it was to have the neighbors play loud music all night. Yes. Tell me about how the noise bothered you. That must have been so bad for you. Do you want a tissue.

I mean yes, being betrayed is hard. Having a colicky newborn while you find out your husband has been cheating on you is really terrible. But the way she went on and on about it made her sound like a bit of a spoiled princess. Huge hand wringing over the fact that he took his new trashy ho to the same restaurant that she went to with him. “How could he!” she wails. “Sociopaths lack imagination,” her therapist coos. Or maybe he liked the food? I wanted to like and empathize with her, but she was really just getting on my nerves.

Then I put the pieces together. All her friends adored and cherished her. Everyone took her side instantly (none of her friends said “he dumped you, get over it,” or cheated on her husband behind her back). She didn’t lose half her social circle who decided they liked her ex-husband better than her. I don’t think she lost a single friend over this even. No one said “stop feeling sorry for yourself and grow up. You can’t lie in bed all day.” She expected that everyone loved her, and would always adore her, as if it were her due. And the clincher: Waite managed to work as an actress in New York for years despite the fact that her audiobook narration/voice acting was so wooden and stilted as to be distracting (despite the fact that she was reading her own material!)

What is the missing link? Ah ha! I figured. Waite must be incredibly beautiful. Who else but a beautiful person would think that her petty, commonplace struggles would be so endlessly fascinating? (And boy, howdy, are there a lot of unnecessary details in this book.) Who else but a beautiful person would assume that everyone in the world loves her and want her to be happy? No one. (I googled her. She’s centerfold hot.)

The book didn’t grab me because I found the main character to be uninteresting and unlikeable. She comes across as shallow, self-absorbed, fragile, brittle and just plain not very interesting. There’s no humor in her pain, no resonance of human spirit (even from a woman who went through the same thing), no poetry in her descriptions. Bland person + great beauty = likeable person. In person, I’d probably adore her like everyone else does. But without the crutch of her beauty, she comes across as a somewhat spoiled girl who went through something terrible but wasn’t quite enough of a writer (or actress) to make her ordeal interesting.

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