Although it titles itself as a book of guidance, The Good Divorce focuses on divorce horror stories, and so it is mainly a book about what not to do when you are getting divorced. Don't lie, don't let your ego get in the way of common sense, don't think it will be easy. The main advice is to be flexible, focus on what is good for you and those you care about rather than getting revenge or expressing your emotions, and keep things in perspective. Those suggestions will be obvious to those ready to take the advice, and those who let their emotions take over in a divorce are probably not going to be taking the advice anyway. So this is really a collection of anecdotes about divorce from lawyers and judges, as well as some divorced people. As such, it is readable and entertaining, although often the writing is pretty clunky and could have benefitted from stronger editorial control. There is a curious section near the end of the book with just two chapters, one on the history of marriage and divorce in the west going back to ancient times, and the other on marital rape and murder. They are interesting, but don't fit in well with the rest of the book, especially since they are out there on their own, not integrated with other chapters. However, they do show awareness and sensitivity to the problems of sexism in the law and cultural traditions around marriage and divorce. They point various kinds of imbalance that suggest both unfair treatment of women and sometimes men, both in these chapters and the rest of the book. Women have traditionally had less power under the law, and there are many cases to illustrate that. But the authors also cite cases where women get preferential treatment under the law in virtue of their sex, even when this is not related to their capacity to nurture their children. Mostly the book emphasizes the randomness of legal decisions, depending on which judge presides and how the lawyers and clients interact. This is not a book of detailed social analysis, but it covers a lot of ground and so it does end up giving up a picture of the current state of divorce in the USA.
© 2012 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York