Woman On Top by Deborah Schwartz is a compelling account of how two men had an impact on the female heroine, Kate. Jake is Kate’s late husband, who succumbed to cancer at the all too early age of thirty-five. The author describes him as Kate’s soul mate, best friend, and lover. Len, a Wall Street real estate investor is someone who feeds on money, power, and control. He is a man with a steel heart whose arrogance is beyond description.
The plot interchanges between the past, how Jake and Kate confront his cancer, and the present, how Kate finds herself in a relationship where she bargained away and became a skeleton of her former self. The book begins with a short description of Jake and Kate’s romance and then jumps to the different feelings experienced by Kate after Jake’s death. A very potent scene in the book, “It took me two years to take off my wedding ring. First, I put it on my other hand and then began practicing taking it on and off.”
Anyone that lost a loved one understands the rollercoaster ride Deborah, aka known as Kate, has gone through. But those lucky enough to still have their better half can also relate to Kate’s emotions. The author noted, “The part of the book regarding my husband’s death at thirty-five is very real. I was left with two young children, three and seven, and it was devastating. A year after he died I sat down and wrote about what happened to him to remember that awful time. I also want my children to understand how their father struggled. I remember our Rabbi came to my house, and said ‘tomorrow morning you need to start living for you are responsible for two good children.’ I put that scene in the book as well as his attempt to answer why a good man had to die so young.”
A warning, a red flag comes through in the book quote, “Had we known the true nature of Jake’s tumor from the beginning, would we have made other decisions, explored other options… But we were so vulnerable, so gullible, so desperate.” Deborah explained that originally her husband was given a 99.99% chance of cure. Yet, within a year he was dead. “We felt so deceived. It really comes down to how a person’s body reacts to this disease. Unfortunately, my husband was the .01%. I wrote this part to show people how terrifying it is for those in the position of facing mortality, left only with hope. There are always a thousand ‘what ifs.’”
Knowing the Rabbi was correct, Kate jumps into the role of a single working mom, but also a substitute father. She worked as a health care lawyer while her children were in school, but when they came home her other job started, that of a mother/father. In the book she recalls how she entered the male role of being a baseball coach for her son’s little league teams.
How a woman who has it so together in her professional and family life can get involved in such a wrong relationship is an important theme in the book. Although Len was a composite of “Wall Street types” she dated, there is the running question, ‘why did Kate stay with him, when she could have walked and ended the relationship at certain points?’
In many of the scenes with Len, the readers see his attempt at complete control of Kate, how she compromised herself allowing him to have all the psychological power, a form of emotional abuse. She writes about his attitude towards her friends and family, how he lied about dating other women, as well as how he wanted her to be seen and not heard while meeting his friends, family, and clients.
Deborah tried to explain how she, Kate, “endured staying with that type of a man. After my husband died a part of me died and I had to resuscitate myself. I did not date for about three years and then only sparingly. As I was writing this book I started to question why do women stay in a bad relationship: is it a safety net, is it better than being single, do they have a better life with all the financial support, is it because of the children, or is it, as in my case, having no experience with the dating life?”
She also gave a word of caution, “The ‘Lens’ are incredibly seductive, tempting, and intoxicating. I fell victim to this type of personality. My message is that I have been to hell and back; yet, found my inner strength. Before someone gets involved in a relationship find yourself and do not be needy.”
Luckily for Deborah she literally and figuratively became a “Women On Top.” She climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011 and found her self-esteem by taking control of her life. 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.