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. In this case, the woman is Kate, a widow, mother of two young children who found herself on the bottom of life after her husband, Jake, a physician lost a brutal cancer battle. Kate struggles to gain control of single parenthood, reestablish her law career and overcome a glamorous, yet, difficult romance.
The romance is with Len, who is able to seduce Kate with expensive jewelry, trips to Europe, elegant dinners, and at the same time provide a somewhat stable male influence in her children's lives. There are some red flags along the way, and with her girlfriends Kate mulls over the troubling issues. He is extremely controlling, a perfectionist, and compares Kate to his ex-wife. She attempts to confront Len with her concerns but acquiesces and continues the relationship. Kate seems smart and genuine, and because Len appears to have more money than God, she is able to experience a first class life. For example, Kate and her children travel on a private jet with Len to St. Barth for a holiday. When it's time to leave the hotel, Len proudly shows Kate the hotel tab totaling $75,000. It is awkward moment, she writes: "Jake and I knew how to make that kind of money last for our rent, food and living expenses for years at a time. I wasn't quite sure what to do. 'Thank you,' I said as I kissed Len on the lips."
While the romance with Len is hot and attractive, there is nothing sexy about the exhaustive cancer battle Jake lost. She writes about the challenges of explaining cancer to young children, spending endless days and nights next to her beloved, and coming to the painful realization that doctors can be wrong. At times, readers will find themselves on the cusp of tears because there are "lump in your throat" moments. In these passages you develop sympathy for Kate because she tenderly cares for Jake and when she begins to date Len, one knows why. About midway through the book, Kate says, "It had taken me a few years after Jake's death, to realize that I wanted to recreate the love affair that I had with Jake and to marry again."
True to Kate the author, Deborah Schwartz is a widow, an attorney, and lives in New York City. Deborah's children are now grown. Her webpage proudly displays a snapshot of herself and a group of hikers on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The character Kate also climbs the same mountain, and for a moment one realizes art does imitate life. I talked with the author and asked her what experiences in her own life are projected onto Kate, Jake, and Len and what is fiction.
When Deborah and I began our telephone conversation, the first thing I noticed was how she is both generous and funny. Deborah knew I also lost my late husband to cancer, and the first thing she did was ask about him. She didn't appear to be rushed to promote a book or eager to name drop.
For Deborah, writing this book took over a decade. "I actually wrote the part about 'Jake' the year after he (my husband) died. I wanted my young children to know their father. And the experience had been so outrageously painful that I felt compelled to write about it. I put that aside until after the relationships with the 'Len' types ended. Then I wrote the next part about those men and blended it with the story of Jake. I put the writing aside again until after I came back from climbing Kili (Mt. Kilimanjaro) and was ready to put it all together. I finally understood what the journey had been about," she explained.
When it comes to delving into the process of writing, Deborah is extremely honest and forthright, not trying to add any type of flavorful therapeutic spin. "The writing process after 'Jake' and after my relationships was not really healing or cathartic. I just did it."
After Deborah's husband died, one gets the feeling that the author dated more than one "Len" but she is discreet and will never share names. She is quick to point out that this is not a memoir wrapped in a novel. She says, "The parts of Len are inspired by my life. There is fiction there."
Eventually, our conversation moved to climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and how this has become a literal metaphor for the message of the book. "It wasn't until I came back from Kili that it all made sense. I quite honestly have never felt more content or more understanding of what this ride has been all about. I will never forget my husband and what a wonderful man he was. I will never understand why he had to die so young. But I am proud of my children and the life we created. I feel at peace now with myself and my world. That comes from feeling strong within rather than trying to find that strength the way I used to in a man. It has to come from me first. And I feel very lucky to be surrounded by people who are wonderful and supportive."
To learn more about this author visit her at http://www.deborahschwartz.net/
and you can read a chapter of her book at http://www.amazon.com/Woman-Top-Deborah-Schwartz/dp/0985817704