Divorcist reads books about divorce: Heretic

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When you start as a corn-fed fundamentalist Christian in the Midwest, vehemently in love with Christ, and end up on the East Coast reading tarot cards, you gotta wonder how exactly you got there. That’s just what Jeanna Kadlec in her memoir, Heretic, now on sale from HarperCollins, sets out to do. Divorcist checks out this latest book about divorce that turns out to be as sincere as it is scholarly, chock full of hard truths about divorce.

The decision to divorce

Like so many of us before, Jeanna thinks she’s doing the right thing when she marries the man she’s “supposed” to marry. Both parties brought up in conservative Christianity, but both agreeing on the importance of Jeanna’s post-graduate education, Jeanna is initially optimistic that the marriage could work on their own terms. They set up housekeeping in Boston and Jeanna pushes herself to conform to the idea of ideal wife. When she discovers that none of this–aside, perhaps, from the education that she was convinced would break her free from her generational inheritance–is what she wants, husband Kyle does not take it well:

Beware ye who walk in the way of sinners, my ex-husband had said. He, his family, and my former friends would cast me as the enemy during the final days of our marriage–ceasing all communication, blocking me on social media before I had filed for divorce.

Stuck on socials

Okay so this struck me when reading Heretic. The mention of social media. And how Jeanna is aware and keeping tabs on who is blocking who when. For anyone getting divorced in the social media age, the socials are a huge deal. The drama and intrigue ginned up by tracking your ex’s socials is neverending. I’m not here to advocate rising above it. Keeping an eye on the socials is important for the information to be gleaned there. But it’s a stage in your breakup that should be just that, a stage. Keep the important information, forget about who blocked who and get on with it. The scalding affronts don’t matter when all is said and done. Hanging onto them hurts you more than it helps.

In this example and others, a lot of this book feels raw and immediate. Almost stream-of-consciousness. And that makes it, to me, a little too raw and immediate. Many parts read like the text messages I’d send my best friends while in the very thick of my divorce journey, full of anger and hurt. The book, in these instances, is not so much a memoir as it is a journal.


The universal truths of divorce

Interspersing the accounts of Jeanna’s evangelical upbringing and decision to divorce her husband to find who she really is are truly fascinating scholarly asides. The author’s done her research, either for this book or a class, and it’s incredibly interesting to watch her weave academic paragraphs into her story. Jeanna writes about the rise of purity culture in the 1990s, the racist and misogynist roots of the modern fundamentalist church, and more with detail and confidence. She is at her best when reminding us who really wins when women are raised to be commodities or when the so-called “moral majority” steps in to politics. This Jeanna is unshaken and brazen. The Jeanna who writes about herself is much less certain.

This may be because she is learning the hard truths of divorce in nearly real time.

Hard truth: You never really know your partner until you divorce them

Zsa Zsa Gabor said it and it’s true. When you’re getting divorced, you might be tempted to make assumptions based on your partner’s past behavior. For many of us, this comes back to bite us in our newly indebted rear. Jeanna found out just exactly what her husband was capable of when she told Kyle she was queer and started divorce proceedings. In one example, he tells her to go to her doctor because her “disobedience had reached a point that, to him, indicated I was sick.” He told her to stop taking her migraine pills which, she writes, can cause a number of side effects but “to the best of my knowledge, a sudden onset of queerness and desire for divorce is not one of them.” He easily turned family and friends against her. Which brings us to …

Hard truth: You may find your family and friends aren’t there anymore

Getting through divorce is about 90 times harder when you don’t have a support system. Since Jeanna’s family and friends were nearly all evangelicals, she found herself without their support. For some, being queer was a bridge too far. For others, it was divorce in the first place. Ask anyone who has been divorced and they’ll tell you how important their loved ones were. Without that, it’s an even tougher road. Jeanna is lost and struggles to find her people.

Hard truth: Your faith may no longer fit

Jeanna writes candidly about her religious upbringing and is clear-eyed when it comes to what’s wrong with American evangelicalism. But her relationship with Jesus was real, and that breakup seems to be the hardest one of all. A lot of Heretic is Jeanna’s coming to terms with Jesus no longer filling her spiritual longing.

Hard (but good!) truth: You will find yourself again

Divorce can throw the best of us into an identity crisis. Everything you’ve thought you’ve known has been pulled out from under you. It takes some of us longer than others, but you do come back to yourself and you are better for it.

Eventually, Jeanna finds tarot on her way to finding herself again. She describes pulling a card called The Hierophant, depicted in one particular deck as a woman of color “a wisdom keeper, a teacher, a purveyor of ritual and traditions…a woman making her own way, trusting her own wisdom, and guiding other women along the path.” Jeanna continutes, “The Hierophant comes to feel emblematic of my own journey of healing from religion,” she writes. “With the knowledge that my own intuition could be a trusted guide.”

A familiar yet unique divorce story

Jeanna’s journey has the same themes as any other divorce chronicle–the self-doubt, the antagonizing forces, the confusion, and the growth–but hers is a familiar tale told in a completely different way. Heretic is a unique memoir/journal/research paper that is in many ways completely relatable. You don’t have to have been brought up in an evangelical Christian church or discover you’d been living a lie about your identity for decades to find in Jeanna’s journey something resonant, vulnerable, and inspiring.