The Breakup Club
by Melissa Senate
(Red Dress Ink, $12.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-89558-5
****
The Breakup Club opens long after most romances end - once the loving is over - and explores promising beginnings in what could have been tragedies. Its four intertwined first-person narratives recount life after heartbreak.

Lucy hasn't had any personal experience with breakups. She married her college boyfriend and prepared for the long haul. Now, after twelve years of peaceful co-existence, he announces he is leaving. Not that her sister Miranda, who goes through a breakup almost every year, fares any better. Her latest is particularly bad. Her heart still flutters when the phone rings. Everyone pegs good-looking Christopher as the home-wrecker, but it's his wife who has destroyed their perfect family of three. And contrary to general expectations, the dumpee is not the only one left wondering what to do with the broken pieces. Or so suggests Roxy, who walks out on her fiancé and their Brooklyn neighborhood on their wedding day.

Seated together at a Christmas dinner sponsored by the publishing company they work for, the four share their problems and form a club. Their association is sealed when they are assigned to put together a book on a celebrity marriage. The joint project plays a part in the club. Miranda and Roxy test the five-step recovery program advised by the future bride, who has had her share of breakups. No tips there for Christopher and Lucy, who must cope with parenthood as well as their newly single state. She willingly submits to a makeover in her attempt to console her twelve-year-old daughter. He, as the token male, has very different problems. Women are standing in line to help him recover. Like the other three, he learns the same lesson. It doesn't take all the kings' horses and all the kings' men to put you together again. All it takes is a little thought about who you are and who you want to be.

Given the melancholic topic, I expected a whiny tone, but the proactive, upbeat characters prevented this. Though they are recognizable types, they tell engaging stories. Christopher perhaps comes closest to a cliché, even if he overturns a number of gender expectations. The endings, with one exception, aren't quick, sugar-coated wrap-ups. They are the logical result of the characters' experiences.

The prose flows, and the dialogue is so vivid that as I read I found myself checking that I wasn't eavesdropping on a live conversation. Senate honors a wide variety of New York lifestyles and does an excellent job using secondary characters to bring a setting to life. I can think of several memorable scenes in this vein, but one in particular stands out: Thanksgiving dinner at Lucy's house. A phrase here, a gesture there capture the tensions of a family meal.

Uplifting and encouraging, The Breakup Club is perfect if you are looking for a little more than romance and a little less than serious psychology. Its homespun moral will invite an approving nod, and its earnest characters will warm even the wintriest hearts.  

--Mary Benn


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