#640 Heartbreak in the Okanagan
11 Weeks: The Real-Time Chronicling of a Breakup. A True Story
by Roo Phelps
Independently Published (Amazon Digital Services), 2018
$23.15 / 9781791550363
Reviewed by Myshara Herbert-McMyn with Ginny Ratsoy
A fourth-generation Canadian broadcaster with family roots in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Courtenay, Roo Phelps has self-published her memoir 11 Weeks: The Real-Time Chronicling of a Breakup. A lifelong radio personality, she is now hosting The Roo Phelps radio show on EZ Rock Kelowna.
How and where to situate this book? Taking the definitions in the Canadian Encyclopedia as my guide, I would fit this book into two categories: memoir and journal. Memoirs “view events in retrospect and are often written with publication in mind,” but journals, “seldom written with publication in mind,” nonetheless provide invaluable insight into the lives of real people. 11 Weeks is a real-time account of events from the author’s perspective while still containing qualities of memoirs: their nature is episodic and they focus on external events to highlight the author’s internal struggles.
After Roo Phelps’ boyfriend, Wes, broke up with her, she began to write through the titular eleven weeks to create 11 Weeks. As I read, I noticed the realism Phelps brings to her writing. She records her changing state of mind throughout the memoir, the obstacles to healing, and the challenges of expectation versus reality when faced with healing a broken heart in only eleven weeks.
Through her well-documented flurry of emotions, we see Phelps struggling toward the date she has determined to be the end of her heartbreak: September 9th, exactly eleven weeks after the breakup. Phelps had googled “how long does it take a broken heart to heal?” and found that “there’s some sort of consensus amongst psychologists that says roughly eleven weeks. 77 days” (p. 12). This became Phelps’ plan moving forward: to document her life for 77 days and hope that at the end of it, her broken heart had healed.
Many readers will relate to the events documented in 11 Weeks. For myself, while I might connect loosely with the heartbreaks I see on television, I find it altogether more powerful to read an honest and true memoir of someone’s actual experiences, especially when recounted in real-time. Female leads on television are often generic characters living in large American cities: women who have been built specially to resonate with a wide audience. Phelps’ ability to be raw and open while documenting her personal experience gives her audience something more interesting than a generic widespread relatability: the experience of real life in a real place, the most relatable thing in the world and the essence of good writing.
Each chapter title is a date. Because of this, the plot doesn’t follow the familiar pattern in which an inciting incident is followed by rising action, climax, and falling action. This unorthodox structure lends the memoir its openness: a ribs-broken heart-exposed-to-the-world openness. It completely subverts our expectations of a love story, and of a breakup story, because the inciting incident and the climax happen before the memoir begins. The plot does not require external dramatic scenes or action sequences. As Phelps moves through the eleven weeks and gets closer to her deadline, she internally examines her choices and behaviours through her own emotional and logical lenses, and weighs them against the insights of her friends and family. She comes to profound conclusions and begins to accept the small changes that come to her as she heals and writes.
The prologue is especially moving. This takes place after the eleven weeks are over and Phelps has printed a copy of the book for Wes to read. Rereading it after digesting the entire memoir, I noticed that her musings at the end of the eleven weeks aligned with the prologue. In her mind, she trades places with Wes and wonders how she would feel having a book like 11 Weeks written about her? Either way, Phelps is upset by Wes’s response to her writing. She ends the prologue with powerful words that force you to turn the page and read on: “I wish I never wrote this book.”
The importance of friendship is all over this book. Each friend has advice that helps Phelps find her own path through the events of eleven weeks. She goes to the gym for workouts and inspirational advice from Hendrik; or for coffee, cigarettes, and laughter with Lucy in her parked car; or she talks to her ex-husband James, or visits Fox and Clive for dinner and advice, or she video chats with one or both of her parents. Sometimes she receives the harsh advice of her cop friend, Seamus, and sometimes she hears Fox’s ever-loving support. Even if she doesn’t take their advice directly, Phelps takes every word of her friends into account to double- and triple-check her own emotions and decisions.
The ending of 11 Weeks: The Real-Time Chronicling of a Breakup is laudable for Phelps’ lack of drama and her dodging of expectations. We don’t get the classic happy ending or a cripplingly depressing ending; we get something in the middle. This story ends not too far from where it begins. It was only 77 days, after all. I’d assumed that as time went on things would change more, but healing a broken heart is a very slow process.
After 77 days, Roo’s heart is healing, but there is no magical happy ending where her life is suddenly perfect. Life just keeps going, another day and another day as the healing extends and tapers. I am grateful to have been with Roo Phelps on her honest, open, and true journey through those 11 Weeks.
Myshara Herbert-McMyn is an undergraduate student at Thompson Rivers University, majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing. Previously she published a review of Tim Conley’s Collapsible (New Star Books, 2019) in the Ormsby Review. Ginny Ratsoy is Associate Professor of English at Thompson Rivers University, where she teaches Canadian Literature and delights in mentoring promising undergraduate students through service learning, research, and co-writing for The Ormsby Review.
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