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Parents Split; the Kids Can't Commit
Bridget Kinsella -- 8/14/00
Two fall titles take a look at the effect parents' divorce has on a grown child's search for love

A return to a
landmark study.
As recently as 1960 the divorce rate was estimated at 1%. Now demographers claim that one-third of adults under the age of 40 are children of divorced parents. The latter statistic is included in a forthcoming book titled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study (Hyperion) by Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, which examines the effect divorce has had on such children and their adult relationships. The subject is also the focus of another September title, The Love They Lost: Living with the Legacy of Our Parents' Divorce (Delacorte) by Stephanie Staal. Now consider one more statistic from the Wallerstein book: in 40% of all marriages entered into within the last decade, at least one of the participants is divorced.
Just about everyone in our society has been touched by divorce, yet until now, very little has been written about the long-term ramifications of divorce for the "children" in their adult lives. "I think it's wonderful to bring it out into the discussion," said Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books, a general bookstore known for its community events in Mission, Kan.

Click Here to find out why Infidelity Is a Hot Topic for New Publisher

Even Wallerstein, widely considered the foremost authority on the effects of divorce on children, had not originally thought to extrapolate her study into adulthood. "Second Chances was supposed to be the last book," said Blakeslee, who wrote three books with Wallerstein including Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce (Houghton Mifflin, paper). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce is a continuation of Wallerstein's longitudinal study of 130 children of divorce. She returned to the study after one of the participants dropped by to see her before getting married and surprised Wallerstein with stories of her experiences 25 years after her parents divorced. "And then it hit me," writes Wallerstein in the preface. "We have not fully appreciated how divorce continues to shape the lives of young people after they reach full adulthood (author's italics)."

Staal said she was searching for precisely this kind of information when she was in her early 20s and first started to read on the subject. "That's when it really started to hit," said Staal, now 28, whose parents divorced when she was 13.

"The big surprise, by following them into their 20s and 30s and 40s, was that there were these whole bunch of feelings no one could have predicted," said Blakeslee.

Jennings said she witnessed firsthand the surprising effect on adult children of divorce when Rainy Day Books invited Barbara Daf Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), to the store several years ago. The subject of much controversy, Whitehead's book grew out of her article in The Atlantic Monthly titled "Dan Quayle Was Right" and it stated that divorce created a culture that d s not value commitment, which had a devastating effect on children. While Jennings said she expected the audience to be filled with counselors, other professionals that deal with divorce, and divorced or divorcing people, she was surprised by how many young adult children of divorce showed up. "They started telling their stories, and it was heart wrenching to hear them explain how they have not been able to have relationships and how much baggage they carry," she explained. "There are very wounded people out there and they don't even know it. That's why it'll be good to have these books out there."

Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, said she expects that both The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce and The Love They Lost to sell well, particularly if the media tap into them. "There certainly hasn't been much written about it," she said. "And whenever you fill a void in the pop psychology category, they usually sell pretty well. That is, until every publisher hops on the bandwagon."
Adult children
speak out on divorce.
The Wallerstein book is already slated for a first excerpt in Time and the author will be doing the lecture circuit this fall, according to publicist Grace McQuade of Goldberg McDuffie Communications. Delacorte was in the process of getting a mass mailing out for the Staal title when PW spoke with Theresa Zoro, associate director of publicity, but she said there have already been some inquiries from the press.
Divorce as a category sells strong and steady at Borders Books and Music, according to spokesperson Kendra Smith. "I think these titles will stand out this season against most titles in this category that are aimed at practical advice for a person or a family coping with divorce," she said.

What both books do that others have not done before is give a voice to this generation of grown children of divorce, albeit each in its own way. Wallerstein contacted 80% of the participants in her original study and focuses on eight archetypal individuals in the current book. In a departure from her earlier work, Wallerstein uses a comparison group of people of the same age, raised in the same place but in what Blakeslee called "good-enough" intact families. The result is a book mixed with personal stories and Wallerstein's analysis. "What Judy is saying is that growing up in a divorced family is just different," said Blakeslee, who is also a science correspondent for the New York Times. "A lot of people will not want to hear this, but we need to face up to the fact that it's a different experience for children."

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce is not antidivorce, but barring an abusive environment, it shows that by and large most children of divorce face more economic and emotional challenges into their adult lives than their counterparts from "good-enough" intact families. In terms of having their own relationships, children of divorce, it says, do not have a template with which to gauge their choices. "There's nothing in here that says kids can't make it, but let's face it, it's harder," said Blakeslee.

The Love They Lost takes a different tack. While she is an admirer of Wallerstein's work, Staal said she found much of the field filled with politically charged and judgmental titles, like the Whitehead book. "The discussion g s beyond that," she said. "Our parents are divorced already; it's more about how we've been affected." So Staal interviewed hundreds of grown children of divorce and The Love They Lost contains some of their stories along with her own. "A lot of the people I talked to said that they can't even picture their parents together now and can't even picture them getting together," Staal told PW. It's this "What were they thinking?" question, she said, that nags many of them as they try to make their own commitments.

"I found it really helped me to talk to other people about it," said Staal.

Infidelity Is a Hot Topic for New Publisher
The author is the baby
in this photo.
Some might call it beginner's luck. Just about a year after the launch of the San Francisco-based MacAdam/Cage Publishing, the neophyte press finds its September title Infidelity: A Memoir by Ann Pearlman in demand--and it hasn't really begun to market to the trade yet. With a 12,500 first printing and no decision yet about going back to press just weeks before its release, editor Pat Walsh characterizes Infidelity as a success--particularly because of the prepub media interest.
Pearlman is already booked for an appearance on Good Morning America to coincide with the September 15 pub date and is being considered by another national ABC News program, according to Walsh. The author is writing a piece for the October issue of O, The Oprah Magazine and will appear on MSNBC's Dayside program. New York-based publicist Carol Fass said such attention so early for a book from a new publisher is "extremely unusual." (See page 335 for the starred review.)

"It's like fishing at a trout farm. We're getting bites from so many places," said Walsh.

Apparently, Pearlman hit a hot button when she decided to write about the infidelity of three generations in her family. But this is not the first time the author's been in the media. A trained family therapist, she did the talk show circuit, appearing on Oprah, Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael after her first book, Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair with Your Spouse, came out in 1985.

Infidelity comes out of her shocking discovery and struggle to deal with her own husband's infidelity after 25 years of marriage. Although his name is changed, the fact that Pearlman was married to a former NFL player and artist also attracts media interest.

MacAdam/Cage will publish 12 titles this year, sticking mostly to fiction at first and gradually moving into nonfiction. "We are trying to stay relatively small," said Walsh.

Note for 2001: Hyperion has a related memoir on its spring list. Breaking Apart, by Wendy Swallow, is a memoir that is being compared to Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, for its honesty and tone.
--Bridget Kinsella


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