Writers of all stripes explore the experience of being part of a stepfamily.
In the past few decades, a host of sociological studies have sought to make sense of the fracturing of the American marriage. As divorce rates have continued to hover around 50 percent, the studies have suggested something of a moral crisis, even to the most stoic of observers. The rates have decreased somewhat in the new century, but what of all those divorces? However, second and third marriages often succeed, which has led to increasing numbers of steprelationships—and all the ups and downs those relationships imply. In her collection, Waltz offers essays and stories from writers who have found themselves in stepfamilies, whether by their own decisions or by the marriages of others. Many of the pieces highlight the shifting boundaries and structures of “families,” including not only blood relatives and steprelatives, but also others who come to be considered “one of us” through selfless actions and commitments. The bonds that can be forged, we are reminded repeatedly, come more through empathy than through sharing parents; it’s more about what we do than who we are. The stepfamily can present problems not unfamiliar to blood relations, but with a different angle. The disagreements between two people worked out over time follow a different process than the disagreements that must be faced by a couple for whom the battles have been fought before and the willingness to see differently muted. The challenges can also be unique—e.g., how do we make that leap of faith into new families when our old ones have failed us? Throughout this collection, the contributors—who include Kerry Cohen, James Bernard Frost, Ariel Gore, and Ellen Sussman—provide “a model for creating order and peace out of a tangle of step relationships [or] let us know it isn’t always possible.”
These writings inform, wrestle with, and embrace these questions and more.