Another book I’ve reviewed recently failed to grab me at first, but once I got into it, I kept turning the pages, and finished it in about 24 hours. Good in a Crisis, by Margaret Overton, is a memoir of post-marriage. One day, this busy, attractive, successful anaesthesiologist realises her husband of 20 years doesn’t love her. She leaves him, and steps into a life of trauma, loss and misadventure. As a doctor, she spends most of her time working with trauma patients — accident victims, alc0holics, would-be suicides: “We get these patients all the time. People jumping off buildings and bridges, onto highways, drinking Drano, stabbing themselves in the abdomen or the neck, trying to scalp themselves. The violence, the depression, the profound depression that exists out there astonishes.” Like many who work in the health professions, she is herself a wounded healer.
As she puts it, life is damaging. For her, the damage of the failure of her marriage, of realising her life partner does not love her, and has not done so for a long time, pushes her into a destructive cycle of Internet dating. In the midst of it all, in flagrante delicto with an indifferent lover, the persistent headaches she’s been having for months suddenly erupt and she has a near-death experience. Tests reveal an aneurysm deep in the brain. Platinum coils are inserted to protect it from rupturing, and she resumes her life, including working out and bike riding in Tuscany. Supportive friends and colleagues, her daughters and her work keep her going through more discouraging affairs, the stuff of many scenes of sexual comedy. More men, more bike tours, visiting her elderly dementing mother in the nursing home, long hours in trauma surgery — her life goes on, and you wonder how many more disastrous encounters she will have before she gives up on men altogether, or meets Mr Right. But, as she says, there is no Hollywood ending; just a gradual realisation of the value and fragility of life, and the worth of “just showing up”, being present when others are struggling or suffering. Writing, her work, family and friends, exercise, reading and learning, take the place of Internet dating. There is room in her life for love, but the kind of love that grows from friendship, ” from the inside out”.
The memoir is engagingly written, developed from letters she began writing to her beloved dead friend and colleague, Paul, about everything that happened to her from the day she left her husband. The question the book seeks to answer is: will you adapt when that moment comes, when “everything you depend upon changes, or perhaps someone you love disappears, or no longer loves you…”? LIfe is fragile, “everything you trust, and treasure, whatever brings you comfort, comes at a terrible cost. Health is temporary; money disappears. Safety is nothing but an illusion.” The challenge is to adapt, and this book is her response to this challenge.
It is a great example of the healing value of life writing. Writing has helped her to recognise the destructive patterns in her life, and to change her life accordingly. The healing value of life writing is two-way. Others can read her story, recognise themselves, aspects of their lives in it, laugh, share, empathise, and put the book down, a little more aware, as well as entertained.