She Let Go of My Hand: A Father’s Memoir of His Divorce Journey by John D. Wattson is a heartbreaking and honest tale of troubled times.
The hard truth that relationships take time and effort should come as no surprise to any reader, but rarely is the brutal collapse of a marriage put on such bold display. In She Let Go of My Hand, an honest and heart-rending memoir by John D. Wattson, we witness a husband pouring out his confusion and pain on paper, either as penance or in an attempt to better understand the path that his life has followed. From the early years of marital peace and overflowing love, to the troubled times of therapy, fighting and the gradual decline into bitterness, Wattson welcomes readers to sit in on the emotional roller coaster that any marriage can be, particularly one that is put to such an extreme test.
Despite his unavoidable bias against certain elements of the marriage, and moments where he argued vociferously for being completely in the right, the book is not a rage-filled diatribe against the merits of marriage or the character of his wife. This is more like a play-by-play of love as it fails, admitting the faults of both players and commenting on moments where the relationships could have been saved, without falling too heavily into the trap of self-despair or resentful musing. The resolve to parse through so many years of feelings and heartbreaks, after 33 years of being in a partnership, takes incredible courage and a perspective of honest self-reflection. As a person, that can be difficult enough, but as an author, it becomes even more impressive and demanding.
The early chapters of the book have slight tones of “woe is me” from the author’s side, but if the events depicted can be trusted, along with the authorial voice as a whole, then certain moments of anger and frustration are certainly warranted. As the painful reality of a brutal split sinks in, the narration becomes more insightful and probing, as though Wattson has a clearer head about those years, and is better able to articulate his thought processes after some of the marriage and divorce fires have been put out. The drama is far from over, though; from financial fraud and verbal abuse to threats of revoking visitation rights and restraining orders, Wattson pulls readers slowly through the ugly muck of a savage divorce.
While some may read this book as a stream-of-consciousness journal of one man’s tragic path, there is enough good advice buried in these pages that can help other people going through similar circumstances. Some of this is the soul-cleansing prose of a man trying to de-clutter his memory, but it is also an honest timeline of a divorce, albeit one on the extreme end of “amicable.” For those divorcees with children, this book is particularly powerful, and will likely resonate in terms of the emotional struggle that a child inevitably experiences in the midst of separating parents. Perhaps Wattson’s ultimate goal is to help others get through the painful reality of a divorce, and possibly guide those readers to do it better than he and Veeby.
The writing is disjointed and unprofessional at times, but that often reflects the high-octane emotions of a scene or the genuine exhaustion and frustration of the author. A bit more polishing in certain sections would be appreciated, but generally, the intense style of the book is perfectly paired with the unpredictable and highly-charged content. Between the sadness, frustration, confusion and bitterness, John D. Wattson has captured a formative and unique part of his life in the pages of She Let Go of My Hand, and within that experience, there is wisdom to be gleaned.