Your heart’s been broken before. Perhaps it happened many years ago, or perhaps it occurred more recently. Whenever the wound was inflicted, whoever was to blame, the experience was formative—like puberty, with which heartache often corresponds. Obviously, your ordeal was intensely personal; at the same time, you felt connected to a larger community. All those songs that suddenly gained a deeper significance; all that poetry that became (briefly) tolerable. Love lost is a universal currency: honored everywhere, despite your inclination to hoard it.
Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler (art by Maira Kalman), is a fictional account of one such love lost. Specifically, Min (high school student, “interesting” girl) has dumped Ed (high school student, athlete and offhand homophobe), and is returning to him the detritus of their relationship: two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a box of matches, and other items of erstwhile import. The novel serves as an open letter to Ed—a manifest of his relationship with Min and, ultimately, an explanation of why it failed. Whether you associate with Min or with Ed, or with any of the other fully realized characters, you will recognize the dynamics at play—the thrill of defying expectations, the willful loss of self, and the reluctant, inevitable return to equilibrium.
Handler is the author of three books under his own name, but has reached a wider audience under the sobriquet Lemony Snicket. Clearly, his memories of high school have survived intact, as has his appreciation for adolescent hierarchies and dialogue. To fairly portray teenagers, one must respect the attendant highs and lows. Your prior histrionics may cause you to cringe (or you may remember yourself in a less damning light), but the fact remains: that was you, collecting tears in an ice cube tray for future purposes; and that was you, documenting the frequency of your every sleepless night. Love lost is opportunity gained, in terms of melodrama. It doesn’t make you insincere.
When you were young, the pain of heartache was exquisite. The weight of what you’d lost was, contrary to the metaphor, almost too much to bear. You took some comfort in the conviction that it would get easier—both the effort of sustaining a relationship, and the fortitude required to endure it. You were just a kid, you told yourself—a novice! You’d gain experience. You’d get better! Surely, Min and Ed tell themselves the same thing—as did Daniel Handler, as a younger man. But the truth of the matter is: love lost is innocence lost, for which a different literature is required.
Cover: fractured-fairytales: http://www.flickr.com/photos/technicolorrain/
Bottle caps: www.risd.edu
Ticket stubs: www.mediagallery.usatoday.com