When I stumbled across the description for Jennifer Wright’s upcoming It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History, I could not help myself; I had to see if I could get my hands on a copy to preview. Mostly it appealed to my inner history nerd but it also just sounded like an amusing way to frame these historically tragic, vicious, dramatic, and tumultuous relationships. Looking to put modern failed relationships into perspective for forlorn or despairing readers – or anyone who has been through a rough break-up and may be ashamed of their behavior in the days or weeks following it – Wright’s approach is definitely entertaining.
I was only familiar with a handful of the specific relationships mentioned but I had heard of almost all the major players Wright chose to feature. Giving brief biographies of the figures along with many modern analogies and references, the featured couples’ relationships are dissected from beginning to messy, messy end. The relationships are listed in the Table of Contents with descriptions based on any newly single readers’ possible situations: “If you ever made the same mistake twice” (Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard), “If you were dumped” (Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton), or “If you want to believe it will all work out for the best in the end” (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor).
The book and its presentation were definitely funny but there were times when Wright’s narrative style became a bit much for me. She tried a little too hard at times to keep everything light and humorous – understandable considering the profoundly disturbing things some of the couples in question did to one another. The popular culture references and analogies occasionally forced the central figures of the chapter into the background. Her personal commentary became a distraction as it appeared a tad too frequently and jumped around more than I cared for. I would have preferred a bit more information on the couples that were supposed to be the heart – broken though they may have been – of the book.
While some of her tangents were unnecessary and much of her commentary is played for laughs, there are some very valuable messages and themes that she finds in the failed relationships Wright presents. Towards those who behaved badly, she is harsh. Given how far back into history she goes – beginning with Nero in ancient Rome – many of the people behaving badly were the men and while women were at a noted disadvantage. Not all of the women tolerated the bad behavior of their partners – which is part of how many of them ended up in the book. Wright pushes, ultimately, for two things: to stop romanticizing the past so much because things were decidedly not better hundreds of years ago and that we should all treat one another with grace, dignity, and respect when we can, regardless of how other people treat us or what we think we deserve.
It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright will be available in stores on November 3, 2015.