A collection of fiery break-up letters written by the rejected.
In the wake of an unpleasant split with her unable-to-commit boyfriend, freelance journalist Holmes decided to put her rage to good use and collect “the best and most famous break-up letters in history.” Hyperbole aside, the collection covers a wide range of letters, real and fictional, from Anne of Cleves’s 1540 note to King Henry VIII regarding their annulment to recklessly fired-off contemporary e-mail messages. The anthology is divided into straightforward sections that are captivating in a Jerry Springer sort of way, such as “The Tell-Off,” “The Other Woman/Other Man,” and “The ‘Dear John’.” Many of the contemporary pieces are remarkable for their deformed eloquence: “You are the spineless little prick of a maggot, eating it’s [sic] way through the shit of a diseased camel which is laying on the dirty, cracked cement floor of a small, poorly run zoo somewhere in small town America.” The compositions frequently clash: an elegantly cool letter by Anne Sexton (“You think you are a gentleman with your effect of polished clothes and mannerisms, but a true gentleman is one that has a kind and humble heart”) rests uneasily near a 51-point rant “from Lola to Ira” (“1. You have B.O. even after a shower”). The concept is slightly distasteful. To be sure, some of the authors wrote their letters with publication in mind, but what of the others? What of the letter Holmes found on the sidewalk and published without locating the writer? While the introduction notes that the break-up letter exists as a separate literary genre with its own rules and language, the text provides no analysis other than the loose chapter classifications. The fictional letters are generally the best written, while the contemporary pieces are notable for their anger and their distinct lack of cleverness and grace.
Likely to provoke squirms of embarrassment from readers who may well recall an old adage: never put anything in writing.