A hard-luck memoir, intertwined with life lessons on empathy.
This account of psychologist Marshack’s (Entrepreneurial Couples, 2017, etc.) traumatic trials and tribulations will likely elicit great empathy for the author herself. In a personal narrative that’s troubling but often engaging, she documents the fallout from her divorce, her challenging relationship with her daughters (one is autistic and the other suffers from the effects of a brain injury), and her arduous, toxic legal battle with neighbors over property rights. It’s almost unimaginable what the author goes through, and following her journey from chapter to chapter could leave one emotionally spent. Her negative experiences led her to consider why some people have empathy and others do not; her reflection resulted in the “Empathy Dysfunction Scale (EmD Scale),” which she says can help readers “identify the kind of people you’re dealing with in your life.” Overall, though, the book largely concentrates, almost to a fault, on the injustices that the author says that she suffered during a very ugly dispute with authorities and neighbors over residential land use. Indeed, the extent to which the book describes the case—with accompanying reprinted emails and property drawings—is extraordinary, and its tone sometimes feels almost vindictive. However, the book is engaging when it addresses Marshack’s five levels of “EmDs.” The second chapter does a particularly good job of describing each one of these, ranging from EmD-0 (“having zero degrees of empathy but not intending harm”) to EmD-5 (“epitomizing empathy”). By the end of the author’s sad but engaging tale, the EmD levels do resonate, and the implications of empathy dysfunction become clear.
A compelling, if sometimes-painful, read that offers a lesson in personal resilience.