Kathryn Taylor, already divorced once at 40, "never saw it coming" when a married man named Jim befriended her and her two teenaged daughters, helping with typically manly tasks such as erecting a fence, building shelves in her new home, and even volunteering to read to the students in the public school where she taught.
She didn't see that Jim was really planning all along to leave his wife and children, and marry Kathryn. His plan succeeds, and after Jim's divorce and a few years of increasingly close friendship, he assures Kathryn that he's "in it for life" and they marry. Kathryn quits her job as a public school teacher to move to Charleston, North Carolina, for Jim's new job. They are happy—at least, Kathryn feels they are. They enjoy traveling, dining out, frequent daily phone calls, and evening cocktails and conversation. Jim is attentive and buys her thoughtful gifts. Kathryn frequently asks Jim, "Tell me the story of us," because she knows that "his love for me was do deep and selfless, and my need for confirmation and connection so strong. . . the happiness we had found together was the true story and real strength." And Jim tells the story again and again.
So Kathryn is understandably shocked to her core when, five years into their marriage, Jim tells her with no prior warning that their marriage is over, that she is "mean and despicable." Two Minus One is Taylor's sparely written memoir about the crushing loss of her second marriage, and about her determined emotional recovery.
From searching for a good therapist (one who would take her insurance) to leaning on the support of her loving daughters and closest friends, Taylor chronicles the hard road back to self-esteem and financial self-sufficiency. Having invested everything in her second marriage, including moving hundreds of miles away from home, and having left her job, Taylor knows the deck would be stacked against her attempt to reenter the teaching field at age 60, after five years of retirement.
As a somewhat skeptical reader, I wondered why, when Taylor wrote more than once that Jim offered only a "rare smile," and that communication was not his specialty, that she saw no warning signs at all of his impending abandonment. Similarly, I wondered why she was so financially constrained before receiving her settlement, given that she had worked as a public school teacher for thirty years—surely she would have had some retirement funds and had written that before her second marriage she felt financially secure.
Still, my heart went out to Taylor as she climbed out of her initial despondency to rebuild her life after divorce. She finds part-time work supervising student teachers at a local college, and through therapy and friendships, reclaims her sense of self and self-worth. She eventually understands that her husband's cruel words, while aimed at her, did not make them true. Taylor taps into her inner resiliency to find a new peace, to try new social situations, and to bask in the joy of her friendships and the love of her daughters.
I wish Taylor had been more specific in the final chapter of the book, where she writes about challenging herself with new social experiences and enjoying music each day but isn't specific about what these experiences are. Additionally, the last chapter sounds a little like a speech, repeating things she had already written about finding resiliency and choosing optimism. Still, this is an absorbing read that any woman finding herself adrift and alone in late mid-life will find both inspiring and strengthening.
Kathryn Taylor was born at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, Illinois and spent much of her life in the Chicagoland area. She is a retired teacher and had taught in the schools of Illinois, California, and Virginia before her retirement and relocation to South Carolina. It was there where she wrote her book, Two Minus One: A Memoir following the unexpected abandonment by her second husband. An avid reader, enthusiastic traveler, and incurable beach lover, she resides outside of Charleston, SC, which affords her the opportunity to enjoy all three of her favorite past times. This is her first book.
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