Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: Woman on Top by Deborah Schwartz

Woman on Top
by Deborah Schwartz
Publisher: Laudan Press (May 30, 2013)
Print & ebook, 346 pages

This story struck a number of chords with me.  The most resonate was Kate's minimizing of Len's boorish behaviors that set her up to be sucked into a controlling relationship in which she was giving more love and emotional support than she was getting.  I could empathize to a degree because I had done a similar thing myself at age 19 with my own 'Jack', my post high school sweetheart, when I equated the newly firm jaw, squared shoulders, sturdy stride and terse but confident tone of voice my high school confidant evinced 18 months after graduation as evidence of maturity rather than the thin veneer created by boot camp and a year in the Marine Corp.

It was years into our marriage before I understood that without the support of the Corp both financially and with the structured days filled with purposeful assigned tasks he lost the veneer and was soon mumbling, shuffling, head hung, shoulders sagging, dejected gaze on the ground or dreamy eyed on the sky with the clenched jaws and overindulgence in beer added to the picture.

Young women growing up in the last two decades might be astonished that I stuck with him (35 years next Monday!) but that's only because they have no clue as to how strong the culture expectation of 'woman at home and man at work' still was in the 60s and 70s of my upbringing. Besides when he was at his best, which was often enough to keep hope alive for decades, he was more like Kate's Jack than her Len--sweet, kind, generous, emotionally supportive, and with eyes that lit up in my presence and in response to my smile. He wore his love for me on his countenance unselfconsciously, openly and shamelessly.  And I reciprocated.

Then there was this: the most significant TV influences of my youth were Leave it to Beaver reruns, Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons.  If you doubt that could have had a character-forming  impact on my psyche try doing a marathon of those three shows on a long weekend--10 to 12 hours a day for 3 to 4 days either one show per day or mix it up.  Maybe switch it out for an hour now and then with The 700 Club.  Immerse yourself by avoiding other influences.  At the end of it examine the state of your psyche, your self esteem, your sense of your womanhood, your place in the world.

Added to all of that I was raised in a fundamentalist sect trained to be subservient to the men in my life, have no ambitions beyond raising kids and homemaking and no opinions not sanctioned by the preachers, my husband and my father.  But even my secular high school counselor on learning of my desire to go to college and study to be a child psychiatrist who wrote up the inspiring stories of my young patients, suggested that my math and science scores on the aptitude test did not warrant that and in spite of my very high scores in language arts (top 2% in vocab, top 5% in analogy) he suggested I get married, have babies and write stories for them. His implicit assumption being that college was a waste on me, that not even one of the 'lesser' professions between psychiatrist and teacher say, would be worth mine or the system's efforts or the money it would take

That was 1975 girls!

Anyone following Joystory in the last year knows that my husband and I have had a major lifequake and have been separated since last January and although primarily for financial reasons we have been dealing with major fissures in our relationship as well.  I have spent the last year in a holding pattern yearning to 'go home' putting most of my own dreams and ambitions on hold 'until' this nightmare is over.  Yet again.  Broken record--needle stuck in groove playing same  note endlessly.

You might be wondering why in the world I'm putting all of this into a book review.  Well a few months back I decided to give up the stilted, formal, emotionally disconnected, cliche ridden review style I adopted when I started getting ARCs in 2006 and revert to the free style, emotional and personal response to how a story impacted me that I used before that.

I seek out stories that will move me and leave a mark on me and I've come to believe that Whether/How a Story Changed Me is the most important attribute of a story, possibly more important than Whether/How the Lead Character Changed.  Tho the former is less likely to happen if the latter doesn't or is namby-pamby.

This is all a preamble to revealing the epiphany Woman on Top triggered in me and there was no way to make it understandable without some pieces of my own story as frame.  I said in the first paragraph that 'I could empathize to a degree'.  That's because I found it difficult to understand how a strong woman (unlike me) who had gone to college and worked a job supporting herself before marriage, survived the heartbreak of watching her beloved Jack suffer and die a lingering painful death, refusing to wallow in the grief in order to continue to be the nurturing mother her two young children needed, passed the bar and worked as a lawyer to support herself and her children for nearly a decade before Len entered the picture.  How did she get so bamboozled by this bozo?

I've still not quite figured that out.  But I'm sure it wasn't primarily the glitzy, extravagant lifestyle of a Wall Street investment banker.  She might have been a bit dazzled by that as by a sparkly bauble but she didn't need it and she knew it.  I suspect it was her yearning for intimacy combined with having early on witnessed his vulnerabilities and experienced herself as his healer/therapist.  That old cliche: My love can fix him.  Another way I could empathize.

But I am sure that it was her strength developed during the previous decade.  Having experienced herself as a capable provider, nurturing mother, competent professional and networked into an extensive web of family and friends, she was impossible to browbeat into submission or isolate from influences outside Len's control.  And once she had her own epiphany she knew the way back--or rather forward--and knew she had what it took to get there.

All of this is what I lack.  With a visual impairment preventing me from working outside the home for over two decades my early indoctrinated dependence morphed into a kind of helplessness that put me in child/parent dynamic in our relationship for anything that had to do with money.  Except when the only income was my disability checks.  But when the income was his paychecks or unemployment checks he had total control and I could only wheedle, present a rational argument ala lawyer before the Judge or pout in order to influence him. None of which worked but rarely and only aggravated him.

My epiphany was this:  I need to switch my focus from 'going home' to making my own home with my own resources and not attempt to live in the same household with him again until I feel myself on equal footing in an adult/adult relationship--until I am confident that I can keep the roof over my head and the utilities on and my basic material needs met (clothing, medical, food, hygiene supplies, laundry, transportation, escorts beyond the front door or front yard) and have launched my self-pub/freelance writing biz.  I saw it clear as the backlit text on my smartphone's e-reader and knew it as Truth. Knew that not only did I need to do this I would need to stay the course if it took me another year or even two and that it was probably the only way to save my marriage.

I saw it clear.  Yet I'm already feeling the resistance and hearing the 'buts' stuttering like static on the phone line.

Now that is what I mean by the power of story to change you in profound and lasting ways.  If Kate's story in The Woman on Top has the sticking power that I sense it does it could be the spark that keeps the vision it gave me lit up and the impetus to make the moves toward it.

If that isn't a good reason for reading this story, I don't know what else could be a better one.

From the Publishers:

A Woman’s Struggle To Find Herself After Losing Everything She Believed Was Important.
We hear a great deal in the media about women who become victims of wealthy and powerful men. Like a breath of fresh air, the heroine in Deborah Schwartz’s inspiring book, Woman on Top, does escape becoming yet another casualty… literally…all the way to the top of a mountain!
New York, NY, September 4, 2013 - One has to wonder has anything changed since Nora slammed the door over a hundred years ago in Ibsen’s iconic play A Doll’s House? Deborah Schwartz made sure that they did in her timely novel, Woman on Top (Laudan Press).  Like a breath of fresh air, the heroine in Deborah Schwartz’s inspiring book, Woman on Top shows the way things have changed…all the way to the top of a mountain!Falling prey to Len, a very wealthy Wall Street banker who is hell-bent on acquiring her as his next deal, Kate struggles after the death of her husband to keep control amidst the detours of a tempestuous New York romance. As witness to a world of power and greed that life in New York offers to a vulnerable woman, can Kate ultimately rescue herself from the lure that is Len’s world?
Throughout this compelling story, which is inspired by actual events from the author’s own life, Schwartz cleverly weaves self-empowering thoughts into her heroine’s exploits, making it less the ‘damsel in distress’ and more the infinitely successful ‘woman on top!’ In this amazing look at a woman’s journey to finding herself, readers will both laugh and cry as they relate to Kate and her decisions, emotions and experiences.
While following her quest for a reaffirmation of life and love, including a surprising adventure, Kate’s story touches on the unexpected pleasures and decisions we face throughout our lives. Readers who have dreamed of, or survived, a “Len” in their lives, will recognize themselves in Kate as she searches to find what matters most in her new life. What does a 35 year-old woman who seems to have it all do when the rug is pulled out from under her? Kate’s struggle to find inner strength on her journey down a slippery slope with a Wall Street man leaves readers wondering and rooting for her to land as the ‘woman on top.’

What they are saying:

“Every now and then you find a book that you have difficulty putting down. Last month, I had that experience with the novel Woman on Top, released May 30, 2013 by first time author Deborah Schwartz. Readers may snicker about the title assuming this is a poorly written shallow romance novel; however, quite the opposite is true. The title is a double entendre and refers to the empowerment of a woman.”Kristin Meekhof, Huffington Post
“The reader will go through a range of emotions but will not want to put this book down since Woman on Top is inspirational, entertaining, and heartbreaking as Kate straddles two completely different worlds.”Elise Cooper, Working Mother
“The writer Deborah Schwartz, in her novel “Woman on Top,” demonstrates her writing chops by the way she deftly shifts between two literary genres: romance and pathography. The language she uses and the tones she creates align with the chapters covering the stormy romance of the main character and the intense and ultimately tragic illness experience of the main character’s husband.  In this way, the author makes the reader feel deep sympathy for the main character as the story concerns her husband’s plight, yet feel great frustration with the main character as the story concerns her romance. The author makes us wonder how someone who is so clear and soulful can also be so vulnerable and superficial. She’s probably telling us that we’re just stuck with these seemingly contradictory attributes and characteristics. We’re all capable of manifesting a range of behaviors that work against our self interests and that are determined by circumstances beyond our control. Thus, while Woman on Top tells the excruciatingly sad story of an untimely death and the story of a tempestuous romance with its own pathology, the novel has more to tell about us humans.”JRT, Amazon Reviewer
“You know those great books that from the first sentence (and the cool cover art) grab your attention, and make you want to read it? Well, this is one of those. Settle in, and get ready for a great ride. Schwartz alternately made me laugh and cry out loud over and over in this funny, sad, sexy, entertaining novel. A psychotherapist, I found myself cheering for Kate, as she brings us with her on her journey , refusing to abandon her true self while rebuilding her life after tragedy. Schwartz also deftly paints a picture of the ups and downs of monied NY dating that makes us non-east coast people shake our heads in wonder in this absorbing and fun summer treat.”-littlesrink, Amazon Reviewer 
“The most life-affirming book I’ve read all year! “Woman on Top” is a testament to all women who have overcome adversity (in life and in love) through strength of character and a sheer zest for living. After losing the love of her life, Kate finds herself in the arms of a powerful New York banker who prides himself on being able to give a woman everything she could want, and more. But can he? Schwartz’s book speaks to an essential ingredient for happiness–finding your inner strength. “Woman on Top” will make you laugh and cry and laugh and cry again. If you are in danger of losing faith in true love…or in yourself, read this book now!”lilybrat, Amazon Reviewer

Born and raised in New York, Deborah Schwartz graduated from Tufts University and then obtained her Masters in History at Columbia University where she wrote a thesis on “Feminism in Eighteenth Century England.” She received her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. Today, Deborah’s passion is writing and she incorporated her achievement of having reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011 into her debut novel. A New Yorker to the core, Deborah is most grateful to be the mother of her two grown children.

For more information, please visit:

Deborah on Facebook
Deborah on Twitter
Deborah on Goodreads

Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts: 

So Many Precious Books Nov 7 Spotlight, Guest Post & Giveaway
From L.A. to LA Nov 8 Review
Paperback Writer Nov 8 Guest Post
Chick Lit Central Nov 11 One Week Feature
Teena In Toronto Nov 13 Spotlight
Bookalicious Travel Addict Nov 13 Spotliight
Rainy Days & Mondays Nov 14 Review
Mom in Love with Fiction Nov 18 Review
Sweeps 4 Bloggers Nov 19 Review & Giveaway
Mina’s Bookshelf Nov 21 Interview
Celtic Lady Nov 22 Review
Most Happy Reader Nov 21 Review
Most Happy Reader Nov 22 Interview & Giveaway
Saving for Six Nov 25 Review
Every Free Chance Nov 25 Guest Post  & Giveaway
Mina’s Bookshelf Nov 25 Review
Romance & Inspiration Nov 26 Review
Joystory Nov 27 Review

1 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 11/27/2013 11:31 PM  

Wow, I'm proud of you! You go girl!

Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm so glad Woman on Top gave you such a positive epiphany!

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