Good in a Crisis
by Margaret Overton

Bloomsbury, 2012. ISBN 978-1-608-19764-4.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 02/04/2012

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

This masterfully written memoir should be required reading for lots of people: anyone thinking about getting married, anyone already married and thinking about getting divorced. Women in the process of divorce. Anyone who may ever experience a cerebral aneurism. Mothers. Daughters. Friends and relatives of all the above. In other words, this book has something of value for nearly anyone.

Margaret Overton was in mid-life, with a successful career in anesthesiology, two teenage daughters, and a condo she hated when she decided one Memorial Day morning to divorce her husband. The decision did not happen in a vacuum, but it was sudden. In the ensuing four years, through her experience with, she dated a long succession of creepy losers. They clearly demonstrate the reason why so many mature singles avoid that experience. She had sex with some, was raped by one, and somehow lived to write about it.

When her legal fees topped "several hundred thousand," after more than four years of endless delays—some instigated by her soon-to-be ex and others by her own need to go to trial because of her inability (as a physician!) to obtain private health insurance—she threw in the towel. "I just want out," she told her attorney. Sanity was more important than prevailing.

While in the throes of her first post-marital sexual encounter, she suffered a cerebral aneurysm. She's one of the lucky ones. She recovered with no discernible damage, but only after more close calls and an experimental procedure. In case that wasn't enough, her widowed mother experienced a severe health crisis, one of her dearest friends died of brain cancer, and her daughter had a near-fatal skateboarding accident. The list reads like the Book of Job.

That's the stuff of which the story is woven. The threads that weave it are story and wisdom.

"The process of divorce requires that we develop a narrative, an attempt to sum up the 'truth' of the marriage and its dissolution, as if things might be put straight in some cosmic manner with enough words, delivered just so, to enough people, with just the right emphasis."

This book is that narrative, that putting of words in just the right order, with just the right emphasis, and quite remarkably, she does it with such deftness and gently self-effacing humor that I was alternately laughing and fuming at the horror and injustice of it all. Her story structure is solidly crafted, with key elements, like her departed friend Paul, scattered artfully throughout the narrative, deepening the insight ever so gradually, keeping the slope climbable without dismounting from your bike. She embellishes the structure with stunningly vivid descriptions that pasted whole paragraphs permanently in mind.

This is not a book filled with epiphanies, nor is it filled with step-by-step guidelines for surviving divorce or medical emergencies. It is a book filled with evolving wisdom and offering deep compassion and hope. Margaret Overton took the advice she quotes at the outset. She has not wasted the opportunities offered by a good crisis. She surmounted her obstacles and emerged with equanimity. In this volume, she holds out a strong hand of courage to lead others along the path she has trodden, graciously allowing them to learn whatever they may from her experience.

The author bio states that this is Overton's first book. I look forward to her next.

Margaret Overton is an anesthesiologist with an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine and Creative Nonfiction. She lives in Chicago, and Good in a Crisis is her first book. Visit her website.

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