Reviewed by Gail M. Murray
The title alone stops you dead in your tracks! At age thirty-one and newly moved to London, England, Haley McGee, Canadian actress, writer, comedian, finds herself with glaring debt refused by the bank and decides to sell gifts given to her by her ex’s. The gifts include a 10K white gold sapphire and diamond necklace, a bicycle, typewriter etc. So begins her project. With the assistance of gifted mathematician Melanie Frances (aka Gemma) and her friends Fi and Milo, who act as sounding boards, Haley analyzes her many breakups in candid detail. She refers to her ex-boyfriends not by name but by their gifts, e.g., Mix Tape. As chapters alternate between reflection and her everyday life of improv and voice-overs, her personality emerges and the tone fluctuates between tongue-in-cheek and serious.
At the beginning, her chapters are hilarious; you can envision her one woman show, her prose fluid, her delivery similar to stand up. I tuned in to her TED Talk called Cost of Love to get a sense of her vocal delivery. It easily complements her memoir. If you’ve ever lived through a break-up, this memoir will resonate. Millennials will be particularly entranced.
As she interviews her ex’s, “a process of distilling each experience to its elemental truth”(p128), this Ryerson graduate in Fine Arts, asks what they took away from the relationship. Hayley works through the variables in each, such as life lessons, skills learned, baggage. She experiences some nostalgia, yet attains closure and sense of self. As she continues “milking my life for material that might be entertaining “(p102) while honing her show and attending ZOOM sessions with her therapist, she slowly starts to assess her current hot-and-cold, long-term relationship with her journalist boyfriend T who can’t commit. She’s not alone in the world of love and relationships. Her friends have problems of their own. Will her roommate Navid relocate to Iceland for his lady love? Will her best pal Milo leave his relationship with partner Juliet, who advocates polyamory? Poor Fi, who wants a child, continues to miscarry. But the book is never a downer.
At the back of the book, Haley lists her charts and formula. I found the Relationship Index illuminating. It includes questions such as: How reliable they were day to day? How much you liked their people? What was the quality and regularity of sex? Who broke up with who? And perhaps that is one reason Hayley is upbeat as she is the one doing the breaking up. She even dedicates a full page to pointers on how to break up.
The memoir is unique as memoirs go, clever, witty and poignant. It’s entertaining, thought provoking and at times ricochets into self-help, offering a distinctly different slant on relationships. She is currently developing a new show called Age is Feeling. I look forward to securing tickets for The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale when it opens October 2022 at Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto.
The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is published by Penguin Random House Canada.