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Good in a Crisis: A Memoir by Margaret…
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Good in a Crisis: A Memoir

by Margaret Overton

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Good in a Crisis is ostensibly an account of the five or six turbulent years that followed physician Margaret Overton’s decision to divorce a seemingly boorish and philandering surgeon husband of twenty years. “The divorce,” writes Overton, “precipitated a series of midlife events that happened to someone who’d always assumed she was safe.” Many of the events life simply threw at her—her own urgent medical issue (two serious episodes with a potentially fatal cerebral aneurysm), an aging mother’s and college-aged daughter’s serious accidents, the sudden death of beloved fellow anesthesiologist friend, and the diagnosis of fatal brain cancer in another. In all the above, Overton lived up to her memoir’s title. In terms of her own (psychological) crisis, however, not so much. One might even argue that her intemperate, throw-all-caution-to-the-wind foray into the world of post-divorce dating was a crisis of the author's own making. And it is that crisis, rather than all the others listed above, that is the main subject of her memoir.

Good in a Crisis regales the reader with details of innumerable dates with creeps, oddballs, and losers, most of whom have only one thing on their minds. Safety may indeed be an illusion, as Overton avers, but surely prudence helps us all avoid at least some unsafe situations, and I know few people as "clueless" as Overton admits she was. This is not to say she’s an unlikable or unappealing narrator. On the one hand, I want to give her credit for being so honest about her foibles and gaffes. On the other, though, I admit to genuine worry about the possible professional consequences of publicly exposing such astonishingly poor judgment in personal matters. Aspects of her disastrous dinner dates and coffee shop meetings with wearers of make-up, those showing bizarre preferences for bilious green, possessors of brown teeth and slug-like or impaling tongues provide some humour, but the stories wear after a while. (I acknowledge that many readers may be more entertained by her adventures in dating than I was.) However, Overton's description of her “non-relationship” with a lay-about hoarder, her account of being showered by a profusely perspiring date during a decidedly non-erotic escapade, and, finally, her description of date rape in her own apartment gave me genuine pause.

Early on in the book, Overton writes—perhaps not as jokingly as I initially thought--that those in the throes of a divorce are wounded, crazy, and hurtful. They should be identified to the public with neon signs flashing “Buyer Beware” above their heads, she says. If insanity is, as Albert Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and if her account of compulsive and indiscriminate dating is to be believed, the author could be a textbook case to illustrate Einstein's point.

When it comes to memoir, we are primed to expect by book's end the articulation of a lesson learned, a meditation on the deeper meaning of an event or an episode. Good in a Crisis doesn’t deliver one. Or maybe what it delivers is an unintended one. “What’s the truth?” Overton asks about divorce early on in her book. “The truth is what happened between you and him or her, over the years, and what didn’t happen. The truth is what you said and didn’t say, how much you tried, how you changed, and whether you were lucky....In the end, who cares about the truth? You still end up divorced.” Yes, I would add, divorced you may be, but isn’t uncovering the truth of your own role in that divorce a worthy goal?

In the final pages, Overton tells us she eventually stopped “dating” entirely; she actually gave up on the internet! Hardly a breath later, though, she reveals that she still occasionally convinces herself that her friends are right and it’s the only way for a middle-aged woman to meet a man. She’ll sign up, pay for three months and quit after a day or two. Her quest to understand her “journey”, she goes on to say, has prompted her to change therapists, opting for a man, a kind of “surrogate guy” who might help her comprehend--not herself, as one would so dearly hope for her--but “how men think”. It may be a truism that life can change in a heart beat, but this memoir is a telling illustration of how the essential character of a person living that life may not. Presented with opportunities to learn lessons, gain wisdom, improve one’s judgment, people do not always take them. Good in a Crisis left me musing about how much personal agency you really have if you believe, as Overton says she does, in luck. Additionally, how much can you learn if you have little propensity for self-examination, if you don’t understand your own role in at least some of the life crises you find yourself in, or can’t be alone with yourself long enough to try to find out?

I thank NetGalley.com and the publisher for providing me with a free pre-publication copy of this book for review purposes. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Mar 17, 2012 |
Margaret Overton is an anesthesiologist but this is not the story of her career, it is a personal account of her midlife crisis. It begins with her divorce after twenty years of marriage and the challenges that follow. Though her marriage is no real loss, Margaret is hurt as her husband flaunts his much younger mistress, the latest in a long line of women, she discovers, and makes financial arrangements unnecessarily difficult. Margaret doesn't expect to be alone for long though and with her daughters on the verge of independence, she begins to search for a companion. In the middle of her first amorous encounter, she experiences a blinding headache which leads to the diagnosis of an aneurysm. While she is incredibly lucky to survive and the aneurysm is repaired, there are lingering, if subtle, psychological effects. Health regained and with a new appreciation for life, Overton throws herself back into the dating pool, but the waters are murky and Margaret quickly finds herself out of her depth.
While she is honest about her propensity for making increasingly poor choices, her lack of self awareness is startling during this period. An intelligent woman, she is nevertheless almost willfully naive, unable to recognise the warning signs her dates reveal. Overton seems determined to reveal the ridiculousness amongst the 'horror', and there are truly moments of real pain. I was shocked be her reaction to one particular incident where her response is not at all what I would expect from an educated, mature woman. There is a conversation in the course of the book between Margaret and her dear friend and colleague Neil, which Margaret recounts regarding a theory about the arrested maturity of doctors which I think rings true in general and certainly in Overton's case. Margaret sense of self preservation is more like an adolescents rather than a middle age woman's, when it comes to dating.
In amongst her adventures in dating online, Margaret faces several other crisis, the deaths of her close friends - Neil and Paul, her mother's rapid decline into dementia, her daughter's serious accident and the rebuilding of her career. The six years or so that Margaret's memoir recounts were undeniably tough, a series of crisis that Overton nevertheless overcame.

Good in a Crisis is an entertaining memoir but for me it was not the light-hearted, laugh out loud story the blurb led me to expect. That Margaret is able to look back on this difficult period of her life and find the humour in it, is admirable. Good in a Crisis is painfully honest and self deprecating, rarely is Margaret depicted in a good light, but I can imagine it could be a comfort and lesson for other woman floundering after life altering circumstances in midlife. ( )
1 vote shelleyraec | Feb 5, 2012 |
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During the four years of physician Margaret Overton's acrimonious divorce, she dated widely and indiscriminately, determined to find her soul mate and live happily ever after. But then she discovered she had a brain aneurysm. She discovered it at a particularly awkward moment on a date with one of many Mr. Wrongs. This is Overton's hilarious story of dealing with the most serious of life's problems: the death of close friends, the dissolution of a long marriage, a sudden health crisis, the realities of midlife. It's about loss of life, loss of love, loss of innocence; about spirituality, self-delusion, even sheer stupidity. It's written from a physician's perspective, but it's not about medicine, per se; it's about coming of age in adulthood, and making an effort to help others through midlife.--From publisher description.… (more)

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