Book review: “Heartbreak”

Cupid can just take a hike.

He’s messed up your life enough by now, and you’re not taking it anymore. That fat little cherub can just go away, vamoose, get lost, never again darken your doorstep with a quiver full of love arrows. No thanks, you’re already heading for divorce and you don’t need him around. Nope, as in the new book “Heartbreak” by Florence Williams, you need to heal yourself first.

She met him on a college camping trip. 

He was the leader of the group, “a senior wearing John Lennon glasses and a blue bandanna…” They had identical last names; she joked that they “should get married someday!” and later, after sharing adventures and falling in love, they did.

The first years were filled with great excitement, skiing, rafting, hiking, and “large and small triumphs and challenges.” Then came a son, then a daughter, and Florence Williams realized that she was staying behind more often than not, while her husband continued on “through the rapids and the ski chutes…” She thought that was normal, but “What I see now is that it was the beginning of the end.”

He said he wanted to “find his soul mate.” She was gobsmacked. He moved out, and they sent the kids to summer camp while they figured out the next steps. She held on to hope, feeling “sure we could put all the pieces back, but he was already boxing up the puzzle.”

Devastation is a mild word for what Williams felt. She lost weight, stopped eating, became seriously physically ill – nothing, she learned, that was unusual. She wanted love and started dating in all the wrong places. She found a therapist, spoke to prairie vole researchers, attended an EMDR workshop, had blood tests to track her progress, and fought loneliness. She visited an acupuncturist. She volunteered, and explored the subject of grief. And in the end, the thing that might’ve helped most was an age-old cure…

Poets and songsters have been praising it for centuries. Billions of dollars are spent on romance novels annually in the U.S.. We have an entire holiday dedicated to love, for cryin’ out loud, but the opposite is, “until recently, understudied.” So what have we learned so far?

Much of the answer to that is in “Heartbreak,” and author Florence Williams makes it relevant through the power of story. She lays her soul bare here, making readers keenly understand her experiences with a very unexpected love-loss and what science says about the physical and mental effects of it. Williams adds her own emotions.

There’s a lot of comaraderie and comfort in that and some readers may find familiarity in the tale. They’ll also see new findings: the unsurprising, the unconventional, the (for most of us) unreachable, and the unbelievable. 

Still, if you know the pain and gut-twist of rejection and love lost, there’s help for the lovelorn in this book, but buyer beware. You might heal from divorce just fine without “Heartbreak,” or you might find its support heavenly.

“Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey” by Florence Williams

c.2022, Norton $30.00 296 pages