We begin with the telling of the end and then we proceed to the beginning. Heartbroken and the meeting and love story between Laura Pratt and “Sam” is told so carefully and with such love that it almost feels voyeuristic.
I’ve read books on heartbreak before. I might even say that it’s a topic I enjoy. Most have approached it from a purely scientific perspective or from a wholly emotional one. Never have I read a deep dive into heartbreak that so perfectly straddles both.
It isn’t the actual heartbreak or the opportunity to watch it in others that appeals to me, but I’m strongly committed to talking about what I’ve come to refer to as “the icky things.” This involves sadness, awkwardness, criticism, grief, disappointment, and anything else that comes up for us as human beings, but that we have a tendency to try to avoid unless it is shoved in our faces and we are given no way out. I regularly strive to be the person with whom people can have conversations that are uncomfortable because I think it’s important to get those thoughts and feelings out. Until I read this book, I don’t think I appreciated just how much heartbreak fit within the “icky” label.
When Laura Pratt’s long-distance partner of six years tells her “it’s over” at a busy downtown train station, she is sent reeling, the breakup coming out of the blue. He, meanwhile, closes himself off, refusing to acknowledge Laura and her requests for explanation.
In the following days, months and then years, Laura struggles to make sense of this sudden ending, alone and filled with questions. A journalist, she seeks to understand the freefall that is heartbreak and how so many before her survived it, drawing on forces across time and form, and uncovers literary, philosophical, scientific and psychological accounts of the mysterious alchemy of how we human beings fall in love in the first place, and why, when it ends, some of us take longer to get over it, or never do. She weaves this background of cultural history with her own bracing story of passionate love and its loss, and offers some hope for arriving—changed, broadened, grateful—on the other side.
Heartbroken is presented in thirteen different chapters, each expanding on a different aspect of life that contributes to or that makes heartbreak particularly challenging. The chapters were grouped into thoughts and research on ego, faith, memory, place, and one that I think is particularly interesting to everyone, music. Pratt applies her very lyrical and descriptive experience overtop of some meticulous research into the science behind all her topics: how our memories keep people alive in our minds and hearts and why that song transports us back to a long forgotten time in just three bars are a couple of examples.
I have a lot of feelings about this book. It was quite a rollercoaster of emotions for me. It is so delicate and personal that it makes self-reflection unavoidable. Her journey through this breakup is long and arduous and requires a certain level of compassion from its reader. For impatient and overly practical recipients, it may be frustrating to their encouragement to “just get over it” and their lack of understanding that it isn’t always that easy for everyone. There is a part of me that fits into that category which is how it’s so easy for me to identify. In the end, I have learned or reinforced my belief that we all just approach things so very differently.
Heartbreak is lyrical and it is as beautiful as it is complex. At times I was challenged to continue reading, but at the next turn, I was rewarded that I did. This might be the most vulnerable book I’ve ever read and I admire Pratt’s willingness to share so candidly and publicly.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I did have some criticisms, though very minor. When I realized that the book was such a lengthy recovery from heartbreak, I worried that it would become tedious. This is my general response to long-standing grief over break ups in my friends and loved ones. To be clear, yes, I want to talk about it openly and honestly, but no, I don’t want to talk about it forever. And this is where the compassion comes in.
One of the things that Pratt seemed to delight, in, was disapproving long-standing theories about various topics, such as happiness, grief, and other chapter titles. Much of her research pointed to there being scientific proof about humans having ingrained tendencies towards certain emotional responses. I strongly suspect that I am someone who is genetically predisposed to contentment which I also suspect she may not be. So, while theories I’m aware of make easy and perfect sense to me, she seems to come from a totally different mindset. And while I identify with Aristotle’s belief that “happiness depends on ourselves” I think Pratt takes much more comfort in the statement that “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller” from researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky.
I was quite touched by an idea Pratt saved for the end of the book and I’ve been contemplating it ever since. In this quote below, she is referencing a time when she published an essay on heartbreak in a newspaper and readers responded harshly.
Most pronounced my long suffering a weakness, leaning the weight of their disappointment against me hard.
These are the people who have Jack Kerouac’s advice, accept loss forever, tucked into their mittors. These are the stoics who heave their broken hearts overboard and call it success when they sink like stones. I think about them congratulating themselves for drowning something that once lifted them into the air and wonder how we could ever know each other’s worlds. And – all these years on and the tsks be damned – I don’t feel lesser for still being smashed up; I feel natural. It was a massive relationship; of course it left a massive absence behind.
In this final chapter on faith, she argues that she finds it sad that people suffer loss and just move on with their lives, that their grief over lost relationships is out of balance with the joy their connection to that person brought. Perhaps she, too, is arguing that we should encourage sitting in those icky feelings more than we do.
Ultimately, I understand how much it hurts to lose someone with whom we had a strong bond and intimate connection. I also understand that we all have a different make-up when it comes to coping with that. For me, after the initial hit, I eventually arrive in a place where I still feel love and care towards them, but am satisfied – almost delighted – in knowing that they continue to roam the same earth and that our memories survive and that lets me off the hook of having to think about them and miss them or our time together. Laura Pratt, like many others, I’m sure, needs a longer period to digest and move through her grief. Both are okay. We are all as unique as our love stories.
This book is available now in bookstores everywhere. Shop local if you can.
Thank you to the team at Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an advanced copy of Heartbroken. And thank YOU for stopping by! Find more from me on Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and The Storygraph.