In this memoir, entrepreneur and public speaker Pollak (Soul Proprietor, 2001, etc.) recounts the dissolution of her marriage and the subsequent realizations that changed her life.
The 70-year-old author grew up in White Plains, New York, a wealthy suburb of New York City. As an adult, she spent years reflecting on how she “should have been happy” but never truly was. She says that her critical mother instilled in her a sense of codependency and a need to please that would haunt Pollak throughout her adult life, particularly in her 37-year marriage. However, she says that her husband, Ben, a dynamic, beloved teacher at an elite school, was a moody, distant figure at home, thwarting her desire to create the perfect vision of a happy family. In this memoir, she narrates the slow deterioration of their marriage, writing about the “parallel lives” they led after their children were grown. Along the way, the book shifts back and forth in time, as she tells of her attempts to gain self-understanding and regain a sense of self-worth. The most compelling parts of the book detail Pollak’s toxic friendships, especially one with a woman whom she came to see as a stand-in for her own mother. The author’s obsession eventually led her to join a program for people in unhealthy relationships. Her interpretation of relationships in a 12-step frame offers a refreshing change from other addiction narratives. However, Pollak relies too heavily on the language of self-help and pop psychology; early on, for instance, she identifies herself and her family members through the lens of self-help author John Bradshaw: “my older sister (the Scapegoat in Bradshaw’s model).” Her memoir is at its best when she puts forth her own voice, effectively synthesizing complex feelings into powerful, revealing phrases: “Intimacy once removed was delicious,” she writes regarding codependency. “Too close, and it felt like a burden.” It’s also inspiring when Pollak narrates her decision to move away from the suburbs after her divorce so that she could become the Manhattanite that she always wanted to be.
A smart, empowering work about self-discovery that features strong prose and intriguing takes on self-help strategies.