The Ex-Wife's Survival Guide
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The Ex-Wife's Survival Guide

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by Debby Holt

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Right before Sarah Stagg's teenage sons leave the nest, her husband, Andrew, the star of their local dramatic club, leaves her for his twentysomething leading lady, Hyacinth. Sarah, a freelance artist, quickly discovers that the path of a discarded wife is strewn with hazards and humiliations. Her neighbors and friends treat her like she has the plague. And her

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Right before Sarah Stagg's teenage sons leave the nest, her husband, Andrew, the star of their local dramatic club, leaves her for his twentysomething leading lady, Hyacinth. Sarah, a freelance artist, quickly discovers that the path of a discarded wife is strewn with hazards and humiliations. Her neighbors and friends treat her like she has the plague. And her soon-to-be-ex wants to sell the house she's spent years turning into her dream home.

Her best friend Miriam offers one concrete piece of advice: Sarah should keep busy — and with Andrew and Hyacinth on a sabbatical from their acting group, what better distraction than the theater? To Sarah's horror, she is promptly given the starring role intended for Hyacinth. She wonders if she should write a survival guide for ex-wives. Her first chapter could be titled "How to Invite Utter Humiliation to Your Life in Front of an Entire Town and Watch Your Heartbreak Magically Melt Away." Then Sarah runs into the biggest crush of her youth. Now Sarah has more — better — advice to add to the list: Confront your past. Revel in the present. Be open to romance. But despite her new love interest, Sarah wonders if she's actually dealing or just having fun dreaming up sage words for women scorned. Will she ever truly understand what it means to live wisely and independently?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Funny and wise."
— Katie Fforde
Kirkus Reviews
An empty nester realizes that being dumped doesn't necessarily mean the end of romance. Sarah is eager to embrace a peaceful country life of painting, tea breaks and old movies with her husband when their twin sons take off to backpack around India. However, Andrew, her hubby of 20 years, has other plans-and they don't include his 43-year-old wife. When Andrew packs up and moves in with a saucy young actress named Hyacinth, with whom he claims to have finally uncovered the meaning of true love, Sarah is at first angry and ashamed, then resigns herself to making the most of life. She kicks her painting profession into high gear, keeps up social appearances in her small English town and even agrees to play the lead in the local theater production of Rebecca. Part of her new Single Woman routine involves weekly walks, which allow her to spend time learning lines with another jilted lover, Martin. As the days go on, Sarah convinces herself that sex is overrated; all she really needs is hot chocolate and reruns of ER. But when an old friend invites her to Majorca for a weeklong adventure, she plunges headfirst into a heart-thumping affair with a former art-school classmate, a mysterious, handsome fellow she once fancied. Upon her triumphant return home, though, she discovers two men who are not so pleased with the fresh blush in Sarah's cheeks. A whimsical portrayal of life after separation.

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Gallery Books
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0.76(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)

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Chapter One: Alcohol Does Not Encourage Clear Thinking

Sarah's father always said amateur dramatics was a dangerous pastime.

The danger, when it finally appeared, came in the shapely form of Hyacinth Harrington, who was the first new member to have joined the Ambercross Players in years. Audrey Masterton, the company's self-appointed director, took one look at her flaxen hair and her baby blue eyes and gave her the main part in the forthcoming production of Dear Octopus, thus gravely offending Harriet Evans, who had played the romantic lead in every production for the last eighteen years and had expected to go on doing so for the next eighteen.

Sarah, despite her father's grave misgivings, had never been concerned about the dangers lying in wait for her husband. Andrew had been a member of the Players for fifteen years and had never shown a disposition to stray from the marital path, even when the horrible wife of poor Martin Chamberlain had done her very best to lure him into her web with the now legendary invitation, "Martin and I have an open marriage, if you know what I mean." As if, as Andrew said to Sarah when recounting the episode, poor old Martin would know what an open marriage was.

When Andrew came home and told Sarah he at last had a credible leading lady, Sarah was glad he would no longer be irritated by Harriet Evans's simpering imitation of youth. When Andrew returned from rehearsals, enthusing about Hyacinth's charismatic stage presence, Sarah said with genuine sincerity that she couldn't wait to meet her. When Andrew came home from rehearsals in the early hours, she didn't bat an eyelid. When she watched the final performance she was moved by the intensity of Andrew's scenes with Hyacinth, and when she said this to Martin Chamberlain at the after-show party, she assumed his discomfort was due to painful memories of his now ex-wife's performance in the same role twelve years earlier. Sarah went up to Hyacinth and told her how wonderful Andrew thought she was and Hyacinth told her the feeling was mutual, which at least, Sarah thought later, cringing at the memory, was truthful.

Sarah had an inkling that something was not quite right when, driving home after the party, Andrew asked why the twins hadn't come. He sounded as if he'd only just noticed their absence, which was odd because this was the first time they had ever missed one of their father's plays. Sarah said they'd felt dreadful about missing the big night but had forgotten that it was their friend's eighteenth birthday party. The boys, with characteristic absentmindedness, had only recalled the engagement an hour before the play and Sarah had dreaded telling Andrew. It was a family ritual that Andrew would return home like a victorious warrior, where they would all enjoy a celebratory bottle of champagne. Andrew merely asked if they'd be out for the night. He wasn't angry; he didn't even look disappointed. Sarah did glance at him then and wonder at the reason for his unaccustomed equanimity in the face of such provocation.

She found out, during her second glass of champagne. He was, he told her, glad they were on their own. He had something difficult to tell her, something he never thought he would have to say, and he wanted her to know he still cared for her and would never stop caring for her and that...

"Oh my God!" Sarah exclaimed. "Don't tell me: you want to be a proper actor! I always thought you'd say this one day. Andrew, of course I'm with you. If the money's a problem, I'm sure I can find ways of earning more."

"Sarah," Andrew broke in irritably, "What on earth makes you think I want to be a professional actor?"

"Well, you did," Sarah said. "After Move Over, Mrs. Markham, you said you did."

"That was eight years ago! I wasn't a partner then. Now you've made me forget what I was saying."

"You said you still care for me and that" — Sarah squeezed his hand affectionately — "you always will."

"That's right. And of course I will. You've been a great friend to me as well as a wife and I hope we'll always be friends...."

"Of course we will," said Sarah. A terrible thought struck her. "Andrew, are you trying to tell me you have some horrible illness?"

"No, I am not! How much did you drink at the after-play party?"

"More than I meant to. Dear old Adrian kept filling up my glass. He's so sweet."

"He's a boring old idiot," said Andrew brutally. "I'm finding this very difficult, Sarah, and it doesn't help that you keep interrupting me."

"I'm sorry."

"The thing is, as you know, I've spent the last few months rehearsing with Hyacinth...."

"She was terrific tonight," Sarah mused, "but she made me feel so old. Do you know she could be our daughter?"

"Don't be ridiculous," said Andrew, adding for no obvious reason, "She comes from Surrey."

"She could be. She can't be more than twenty-three."

"She's twenty-six."

"Exactly. If you and I'd had children at seventeen, she could be our daughter."

"We didn't know each other at seventeen. Honestly, Sarah, your habit of going off on some hypothetical tangent is extremely irritating. Will you please shut up and listen? The thing is, there's no easy way to tell you this.... In fact, in your present state there's no easy way to tell you anything...but the thing is that Hyacinth and I have become very close." He glanced at Sarah, who smiled encouragingly. "We've become very, very close." Andrew looked significantly at Sarah. Sarah looked back blankly at Andrew. Andrew rubbed the back of his neck with his hands. "Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

Sarah didn't say anything. Nothing could be heard but the wheezing of the old fridge. She stared steadily at her husband.

She stared steadily at her husband and then, with a flash of inspiration that even Sherlock Holmes might have admired, pointed an accusing finger at him. "My God!" she exclaimed, "You're having an affair with Hyacinth!"

Andrew corrected her gravely. "I am in love with Hyacinth."

Sarah, feeling as if she'd been hit in the solar plexus, took a slug of her champagne. "Isn't that the same thing?"

"No," said Andrew. "One is a transitory experience based on sexual desire, the other is a meeting of minds as well as bodies."

Sarah stared at him for a few moments and then smiled. She felt the relief coursing through her veins. "Andrew Stagg, I almost believed you!"

"Sarah," Andrew said, "I am not joking."

Sarah looked at him in disbelief. "I don't know what's worse," she said at last. "The fact that you're having an affair or the fact that you believe all that stuff you just said."

Andrew smiled. It was a very annoying smile and it made Sarah long to hurl her champagne at him. Since the urge to drink her champagne was even greater, she said nothing and filled her mouth with bubbles instead.

"Sarah," Andrew said gently, "I expect you to be bitter. I understand you are hurt and resentful and I want you to know I think you have every right to be."

Sarah stared at him. "That's very big of you," she said.

Andrew gave a sympathetic nod that was even more annoying than his annoying smile. "I have one question for you," he said, craning his head toward her. "Do you love me?"

"Funnily enough," Sarah said, "at this precise moment, not at all."

Andrew sighed. "If you are going to be flippant," he said, "we won't get anywhere."

Sarah folded her arms. "Where do you want to get? Do you want me to say I love you? Do you want me to say our marriage is a farce, a passionless farce? Well, pardon me, but when we made love last week, you gave a pretty convincing performance for a man in a passionless farce."

Andrew raised his hands in the air and dropped them again. He had used exactly the same gesture to great effect in act 1, scene 5 of Dear Octopus. "You see, I talk to you of love and you respond with a smutty comment about sex. It's what I'm trying to show you. We don't speak the same language anymore."

"I agree with you there," Sarah said. "You sound like you've eaten and inwardly digested every romantic novel in the library. Is this Hyacinth's influence? Does she talk like this?"

Andrew put his elbows on the table and pressed his fingertips together. "Hyacinth and I are in love with each other. I knew you'd find that ridiculous. You've never been happy to talk about love, have you, Sarah? Don't get me wrong. You've been an excellent wife and you're a wonderful mother."

Sarah frowned. One moment he was a sugar-drenched love story and the next he was an end-of-semester report card. She swallowed her observation with more champagne and assumed an air of polite interest.

"The point is..." Andrew paused as if he'd temporarily lost the point and was waiting for it to show itself. "The point is...and I am not in any way trying to denigrate your contribution to our life together" — which meant of course he was trying to denigrate her contribution to their life together — "I don't think you ever really loved me."

The rank injustice of this comment cut through Sarah's champagne-muffled brain like a knife. This was revisionist history with a vengeance.

"Do you know something?" she exploded. "You are just like Stalin! I mean, you are not exactly like Stalin because you haven't created a man-made famine or sent people to labor camps or grown a silly mustache, but in every other way you are just like Stalin!"

Andrew stared at Sarah and then, meaningfully, at the bottle of champagne. "Sarah," he murmured pityingly, "what are you trying to say?"

"When Stalin came to power, he had Trotsky's image removed from all the photos of the Russian revolutionary leaders. He made it look as if Trotsky hadn't been there. That's what you're doing, only you've started a revolution of your own, a revolution with you and Hyacinth, and you're wiping me out. You're obliterating me from your past and I won't have it because it's not true!"

"Perhaps," said Andrew, whose sympathetic tone was sounding like a piece of plastic wrap that had been stretched too far, "I should talk to you when you're sober."

"If you talk to me when I'm sober I could give you year by year evidence to refute what you said. Be glad, be very glad I am not sober. How dare you say I haven't loved you! How can you say I haven't loved you!"

"I think," said Andrew carefully, "you thought you did and I think I thought I did too. It's only since I've met Hyacinth that I realize I didn't know what love was."

Sarah, knowing it would annoy him, poured herself another glass of champagne. "How very convenient," she said. "So what do you want to do?"

For the first time that evening, Andrew seemed to be at a loss for words.

"Well?" she demanded, daring him to make things worse. "Are you leaving me?"

Andrew hesitated. "I'm so sorry," he said, "but I think I am."

Copyright © 2006 by Debby Holt

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Meet the Author

Debby Holt is married with five children and lives in Bath, England. She divides her time between writing and teaching; she is also an amateur actress. Debby has had more than fifty stories and articles published in magazines at home and abroad.

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Ex-Wife's Survival Guide 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a nice, quick read. I liked the characters and the writing style of the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I've read it several times
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was in Barnes and Noble and needed to wait out traffic. This was a great book for it. I could really understand the main female character and her friend who, I had hoped, would become her boyfriend and make her happy. I love happy endings and while this wasn't a "happily ever after" book, it was a good story.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Forty-three years old artist Sarah Stagg is staggered by her husband of two decades Andrew dumping her for spunky twentyish actress Hyacinth Harrington, whom he met at the local theatre group. Adding to her despondency is his claim that he now knows what true love is though Sarah figures that Andrew¿s definition is lust. Their twin sons are backpacking in India so Sarah is all alone for the first time in her life.----- Still Sarah vows to move on though she feels anger and humiliation that Andrew leaves her. Still she turns to painting and refuses to hide from her neighbors attending all the social events in Ambercross. Shockingly she even gets the lead role in the Ambercross Players production of Rebecca where she meets fellow dumpee Martin. When she travels to Majorca for a week of sexual encounters, she is stunned when she gets home by the disapproval of Martin and Andrew. Still she refuses to back down from her pledge to herself to live life to the fullest.------ The EX-WIFE'S SURVIVAL GUIDE is a terrific quirky depiction of a woman rebounding from her husband abruptly dropping her for a younger, sexier and spicier model. Sarah is an intriguing individual as she goes through the five stages of grief until she realizes that she has a wonderful life of her own. Debby Holt provides a fascinating character study that the audience will appreciate.----- Harriet Klausner