Custom of the Country

Custom of the Country

Divorced in America, by Joseph Epstein. New York: E. P. Dutton. 318 pp.

Divorce, middle-class American style in particular, is endlessly discussed and little understood. The divorce rate continues to rise (the remarriage rate as well); the statistics no longer surprise, let alone shock. Institutionalized divorce has reached the point where “getting divorced” seems to carry the same weight as “getting married”; only seems to, however.

For all the rhetoric on the death of the nuclear family, for all that a clean divorce may be preferable to a miserable marriage, for all the contemporary emphasis on one’s personal right to opt out as freely as one enters in, some kind of family structure remains an essential linchpin between individual and society. Moreover, in each case of divorce, however necessary, some kind of intimate human relationship has collapsed. Neither sophistication about “amicable divorce,” nor sociological analysis of divorce data by class, race, and religion, nor a critique of the idiocy called divorce law helps us to know the personal pain and confusion, along with the resiliency, that follows from “uncoupling.” Ask the divorced themselves or the children of the divorced. Someone ought to write about American divorce as a peculiar institution, a mixture of private pain and public concern, where the court’s award of custody leaves the father (or mother) free . . . to cope.