News & Politics

Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce

“Gripping and unpredictable.”

“I think of divorce now as something akin to a bad traffic accident,” writes Wendy Swallow. “Somebody starts out just trying to move to another lane and, before you know it, everything flies out of control and all sorts of innocents get hurt.”

The difference between traffic accidents and this memoir is that most car wrecks, once they start, have a terrifying inevitability to them. The only thing inevitable about Breaking Apart—which grew out of a 1998 Washingtonian article—is that it will end in divorce; in every other way it’s gripping and unpredictable.

Swallow, a journalism professor at American University, unflinchingly dramatizes her expectations of marriage, her difficult life with her husband, and most important, the years following the separation as they struggled to forge a custody arrangement that preserved a loving foundation for their two young sons. Her story is a lesson in civility despite anger, faith amid uncertainty, forgiveness in the shadow of memory.

Wendy Swallow



Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.