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‘The Divorcées’ takes readers to a divorce ranch of the 1950s, where friendship is as treacherous as love

Author Rowan Beaird discusses the image of femininity on offer to midcentury women

Rowan BeairdDavid Wilson for the Boston Globe

Rowan Beaird was on her bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas when she stumbled upon the idea that became her debut novel. She and her friends were visiting the Neon Museum on the outskirts of town when the tour guide mentioned that while Vegas was famous for weddings, Reno was where people went to get divorced.

Intrigued, Beaird asked the guide to explain. After learning about the history of Reno’s famed divorce ranches, where midcentury women spent the six weeks necessary to establish Nevada custody and obtain an easy divorce, Beaird says she made a quick note in her phone — “divorce ranch?” “novel?” — and before long, found herself deep into research for “The Divorcées.”


Set in the 1950s, the book’s main characters are all women who find themselves thrown together at Golden Yarrow, considered the best among Reno’s famed divorce ranches. At the novel’s heart is the potentially treacherous friendship between shy, awkward Lois and mysterious, glamorous Greer.

“Those relationships are so intense and sometimes more intense than romantic relationships,” says Beaird. “That feeling of wanting to be like them, to be them.”

Beaird spent hours in the archives, reading interviews collected by the University of Nevada with women who spent time at the divorce ranches and paging through scores of vintage fashion magazines. The women’s clothing — from the prim dresses they arrived in to the stiff blue jeans they wore while trail riding — helped her convey “the image of femininity that was being presented to Lois and Greer and all of the characters.”

Like Lois, Beaird is a film buff; growing up, her father screened all the classic movies for her. “I returned to a lot of those that I loved,” she says, “paying particular attention to those movies that had female heroes and anti-heroes: models for what a woman could be.”


As divorce laws eased nationwide, Reno’s ranches faded away. Still, Beaird says she can see the appeal of “some way to offer a place of community, a respite, some breathing room.”

Rowan Beaird will be in conversation with Christopher Castellani, her former colleague from Grub Street and “just one of my favorite humans in the world,” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, at Porter Square Books.

Kate Tuttle is a freelance writer and editor.