In these witty essays, divorce is an onion—it's got lots of layers and is bound to make you cry (with laughter).
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Six weeks after she and her husband announced their divorce, Kimberly Harrington began writing a book she thought would be about divorce, heavy on the dark humor. After all, she and her future ex had chosen to still live together in the same house with their kids as they slowly transitioned from being a married couple to single people (someday) living separately.
Over the course of two years of what was supposed to be a temporary period of transition, Harrington sifted through her past—how she formed her ideas about relationships, sex, marriage, divorce—and dug back into the history of her marriage—how they met, what it felt like to be in love, how she and her husband had changed over time, the impact having children had on their relationship, and what they still owed one another.
But You Seemed So Happy is a time capsule of sorts. It’s about getting older and repeatedly dying on the hill of being wiser, only to discover you were never actually all that dumb to begin with. It’s an honest, intimate biography of a marriage, from its heady, idealistic, and easy beginnings to its slowly coming apart to its evolution into something completely unexpected. As she probes what it means when everyone assumes you’re happy as long as you’re still married, Harrington skewers engagement photos, small-town busybodies, Gen X idiosyncrasies, and the casual way we make life-altering decisions when we’re young. Ultimately, this moving and funny memoir in essays is a vulnerable and irreverent act of forgiveness—of ourselves, our partners, and the relationships that have run their course but will always hold permanent meaning in our lives.
But You Seemed So Happy
Preface: My Little Homewrecker
When you tell people you’re writing a book it’s not unusual for them to ask what that book is about. I’ve found that their reactions to my answer provide a peek into what I can expect out in the larger world. Because people can’t control what their faces do, no matter how hard they try. They think they’re modulating their tone of voice, but they are surprisingly . . . not. And depending on the topic, the reactions are so automatic and visceral that they’re just suddenly there, subconscious verbal burps.
When I was writing my first book focused on motherhood, I would say as much: “I’m writing a book of essays and humor pieces focused on motherhood.” Boom. Straightforward. The reactions told me everything I needed to know. Most women who were mothers drew closer and asked questions. Most men, regardless of their parenting status, usually responded with a very uninterested-sounding “Oh!” or nodded in a way that said, “I will never read your dumb boring girl book.”
Those reactions neatly summed up what was at play in the world, that women writing about women’s experiences would only be interesting to women. And motherhood specifically? Forget it. Only in America could something experienced by eighty-five million people be considered niche.
But those reactions couldn’t have prepared me for the reactions to this book. Because when you’re writing about motherhood, it is safe to assume motherhood is an experience some women want to have on purpose. And it’s an experience, at least on a superficial Hallmark-card level, that our culture approves of. Or to put it another way, a book about motherhood is harmless. It’s a book that will affect the world not at all. But when you tell people, as I haltingly did, that this book would be about “Marriage . . .” then mumble “. . . and divorce, uh, my divorce”?
Why I love it
Cartoonist and illustrator; author, That Was Awkward
Of all the world’s touchy subjects, divorce is one of the touchiest. When a couple decides to split up—especially if there are children involved—the entire community gets spooked. Friends and neighbors speculate—what went wrong? Who’s to blame? And most importantly: how do I keep it from happening to me? Divorce stories often read like post-mortems, forensic re-litigation meant to expose and explain the failure of a marriage, and more often than not, exonerate the author.
This is not that kind of book. While certainly forensic in its detail, Kimberly Harrington’s But You Seemed So Happy is so much more than a trial-by-essay. Absolutely unstinting in its honesty, Harrington’s work serves more as a meditation on the nature of marriage itself and what it means to be tethered to another person. Her ruthless excavation of her own interior landscape yields a portrait of semi-feral humanity that made me gasp in recognition—in the process of exposing her own emotional life, she shines a light on the reader’s as well.
But You Seemed So Happy is thrilling, daring, and a complete departure from the expected. With humor, heart, and dedication to telling the truth the best she can, Harrington throws a lifeline not just to anyone going through a divorce, but to all of us here dealing with our own messy humanity.
Member ratings (1,130)
This book was unexpectedly funny but also very vulnerable and insightful on the author’s part. Not just for relationships in trouble but helped me self examine what I can do to be a better me overall
Dry, wry, honest, witty, cynical. This book is essentially the GenX answer to whatever our parents read when they got divorced, if those dummies had bothered to read before they left us for feral.
This book was relatable and witty. Though divorce is heavy, Harrington took it light. I laughed out loud and thought damn, she nailed it. After, I had to go on and buy Harrington’s other book.
Mount Rainier, MD
Poignant, raw, and laugh-out-loud funny at times. The author flirted with nihilism but seemingly found her way back to hope (in certain respects). Her ruminations felt vulnerable and authentic.
It was like talking (or really listening) to a good friend. I'm happily married but I could absolutely relate to many of the essays. Very thought provoking. Strong writing. It's a keeper!