Ellen Hawley Shares an Excerpt from Her Latest Novel 'The Divorce Diet'


By Ellen Hawley

After a breakup, some steps toward recovery feel like more disaster falling on our heads. 

This is an excerpt from my novel The Divorce Diet. Thad has recently announced that this whole marriage thing just isn’t working for him, and Abigail and their baby, Rosie, have moved in with Abigail’s parents, who are wonderful and supportive and are driving her crazy. As they talk, Abigail first has a tiny, triumphant moment of standing up to Thad. Then she catches a glimpse of the man he really is, and it feels anything but triumphant. All the same, it’s a step on the road to reclaiming her life.

As the scene opens, she is waiting for him in a coffee shop.

When Thad shows up, he doesn't ask if I've been waiting long, he just sits across from me and folds his hands on the table. I notice that he doesn't have a wedding ring. I hide my hands under the table, remove my own ring, and slip it into my purse.

“So—,” I say.

It takes a moment, but he also says, “So.”

I wait for him to say something more and after several moments he repeats “so” and adds, “how’re your parents?”

“You are not allowed to talk about my parents.”

It feels fantastic to say that. If he can’t talk about them, he can’t criticize them. They’re my parents. Only I get to criticize them.

“I only asked,” he says.

“Well don’t.”

I study the part of him I can see above the table for signs that he’s having an affair. I’m not sure what I’m looking for here—rashes, sneezing, an unusual level of attention to his looks?

“You’re the one who wanted to talk,” he says. “So talk.”

“I don’t know what to tell anyone,” I say. “Why are we doing this?”

He talks. After a length of time I don’t measure, I realize I’m not getting an answer but I let him talk anyway. I study his face for rashes, although I don’t suppose this is the part of his anatomy I should check.

“Forget it,” I say. “Let’s talk about child support.”

He talks about bills and the mortgage on the house I don’t live in anymore. He says I’m going to have to go back to work.

“You think I don’t know that?” I say. “Of course I know that. But if you think I can support Rosie alone—.”

We argue about child support and his spending habits and my spending habits, and about health insurance, the size of his paycheck, the size of my paycheck in the job I don’t even have yet, and whose idea it was that I not go back to work after Rosie was born. We argue about how much I spend on groceries.

He used to tease me for buying generic, and I did stop although for some stuff, I swear, the only difference is the price. He coached me to buy 100% cotton percale when we shopped for sheets, organic when I shopped for food, microbrew when I shopped for beer.

He was worth it. We were worth it.

I, however, am not worth it.

The boy behind the counter, the one with the pierced lip and the barcode tattoo, is staring at us.

“Can you keep your voice down?” I say to Thad.

A woman sitting two tables away turns to stare at me and I lower my own voice and whisper, “Can you keep your voice down?”

We reach a temporary agreement about child support and I ask if he can give me some money to tide me over.

He says he didn’t expect, and in any case he didn’t bring—.

I remind him of the existence of cash machines.

We argue about the state of his bank account. I don’t mention microbrews, although maybe I should.

He hands me twenty dollars from his wallet and I shove it into my purse, alongside the wedding ring.

When I walk to the door, everyone’s eyes follow me—I can feel them without having to look—and I lock my own eyes straight ahead until I get to the car, where I sit behind the wheel and burst into tears.

Thad walks by without seeming to notice me, and then he drives past, steering with one hand and holding the phone to his ear with the other. I follow him until he pulls into the parking lot of a small restaurant. Through the window, I see a candle glowing on every table.

writer photo

Ellen Hawley

Ellen Hawley is a fiction writer and blogger. The Divorce Diet is available from Kensington Books. Her blog is Notes from the U.K. at notesfromtheuk.com.