A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
I know what you’re thinking. Cute dog on the cover, sort of cutesy title, a font that screams, “Hey, I’m a book for women, but not one of those books for women.” But A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon is a damn good book.
It starts with our hero, Gina Bellamy, who discovers her husband is having an affair. Not only is he having an affair, it’s Christmas, her first Christmas in the perfect house they have renovated together, and she’s wondering what will be the next big project to bring them together. Nothing, apparently, as he is sleeping with a younger blonde.
Flash forward, and Gina is in her new apartment, boxes and boxes of stuff from her old life crowding her new one. Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of things, she decides that she’s going to only keep 100 crucial things. She also nails a sweet new job restoring her dream home, which happens to be inhabited by a very handsome (though married) photographer. And yeah, there’s a dog.
But this book is more than the sum of its parts. There are moments in this book that are so true, so resoundingly emotionally real, that I almost burst into tears. The relationship between Gina and an old boyfriend, Kit, is so wonderfully depicted — rosy and dreamy in flashbacks, complicated and damaged and ultimately sort of boring (in a realistic way) in the present. The danger of painting first love as a lasting one that would have solved all of life’s problems is a huge theme of Dillon’s, and I loved the almost forensic examination of the ways in which romance doesn’t always stand up to the quotidian world.
More seriously, I truly enjoyed the portrayal of Gina and her ex’s marriage. While no marriage is perfect, Dillon zeros in on the real problem with the relationship: neither of them expected it to last, until there was a tragedy and Gina’s ex-husband reacted by trying to turn into a white knight. There’s also a recognition of the fact that divorce doesn’t mean either party is a bad person, or they weren’t right for one another at some point in time. There’s a moment where the one of the two asks if their marriage was a waste of time. The answer–that it wasn’t, but continuing it would have been–is heartwrenching, but resonates.
(Also, I appreciate the blunt discussion of losing one’s hair and gaining weight when one has cancer. I feel like many books that deal with cancer depict cancer-ridden women as frail, consumptive disasters who lose hair gracefully, strand by strand, while weeping and shedding pounds.)
While the plot is ultimately predictable (even the “surprise twist” open ending), Dillon’s pragmatic view of the world and literature are what make this book truly shine. For her heroine, nothing is easy, but she still learns to find joy in the small, perfect moments.