Don Noble
3:56 pm
Mon March 19, 2007

Queen of Broken Hearts

This is, entirely, a relationship novel. I feel ethically obliged at this point to warn male readers that this book is by, for, and about women.

Audio to come soon. As that great American philosopher Paul Anka told us around 1960, breaking up is hard to do. That's why, whatever else she may have to worry about, Clare Ballenger, the protagonist of Cassandra King's new novel, Queen of Broken Hearts, need never worry about running out of clients. In Fairhope, Alabama, Clare, with a Ph.D. in Counseling, runs therapy sessions and retreats for women going through or recovering from divorce.

Clare begins by asking any client who is not yet legally, thoroughly divorced whether there is any hope for the marriage, and if the answer is no, she helps that client through the trauma, shock, pain, grief, denial, and anger. Anger is good?it's his fault, too.

This is, entirely, a relationship novel. I feel ethically obliged at this point to warn male readers that this book is by, for, and about women. I cannot recommend it to any man and I would not have read it myself, except in the line of duty. Many women readers, however, will love it, as they have loved The Sunday Wife and >The Same Sweet Girls. The women in this book talk about, dissect, rehash, mull, and chew over every detail in their relationships, and there are plenty of them.

Clare's adopted daughter, Haley, married with two children, has a husband with a stressful new job who is irritable a lot and finds fault with Haley all the time. We know what he's up to.

Clare herself is a widow. She loved her husband, Mack, desperately, truly, but he was an unhappy alcoholic who died in what everyone has agreed to call an accident. An accomplished hunter, he tripped over a vine in the woods and shot himself. Clare has never recovered, and although she is being courted by Mack's elegant, handsome, rich, sophisticated cousin, Rye Ballenger, she cannot turn Mack loose. Posthumous breaking up is especially hard to do.

Clare is also being courted by Lex Yarbrough, a retired U. S. Navy captain from Maine who has bought the Fairhope Marina. He is perfect in every way but can make no progress with Clare. His attentions to her, however, activate jealousy in Lex's ex, Elinor, who was bored with him and threw him out but now wants him back.

Not only does Elinor want Lex back, but Clare's best friend, Dory Rodgers, nearly healed after being left by her husband, whose name is Son, finds that he wants her back, too. Again Professor Anka. Instead of breaking up, I wish that we were making up again. Apparently men and women want desperately the thing they didn't want anymore, if they notice that someone else wants it. Real dog-in-the-manger stuff. One night, on a platonic date, Clare and Lex return to Clare's home in Fairhope to find Lex's ex's Lexus parked there. I said that just for fun.

Dory is a character right out of Sue Monk Kidd. She is a new-ager and leads a group of women called the White Rings who are Volunteers in Service to Divorcing Women. At Clare's retreat by the river, Dory builds a labyrinth based on the minotaur story?Theseus being, in his desertion of Ariadne, one of the most ungrateful men in all Western mythology. At the labyrinth, the women can undergo, at the spring equinox (the day of change from more dark to more light), the Asunder Ceremony. (If there is still a man reading, I am surprised.)

This is not chick lit, not The Devil Wears Prada or Bridget Jones's Diary. This book, like her earlier Same Sweet Girls, is for female readers of the characters' age, around 50. There are a pair of older eccentrics, Zoe Catherine the Bird Lady and Cooter Poulette, a Mr. Malaprop, for local color and comic relief. This is a crafty novel that moves right along. King means to be queen of the midlife women's novel.

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