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Woman Overboard by Jo Kadlecek

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Woman Overboard by Jo Kadlecek

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"Kadlecek combines her gift for storytelling with clear-headed yet emotional brief essays on what gives life meaning, how do we find it, embrace it, and live it with passion when so much of our ordinary days seem bogged down and distracted."

As a big fan of author Jo Kadlecek’s Lightfoot trilogy about religion reporter Jonna Lightfoot Maclaughlin and who, in fact, gave a cover endorsement for the final book A Minute Before Friday, I was eager to read Kadlecek’s nonfiction musings in Woman Overboard: How Passion Saved My Life. Full disclosure leads me to confess that I am generally a bigger fan of fiction’s showing than nonfiction’s telling.

Furthermore, I have favorite nonfiction authors and favorite fiction authors but rarely does one cross successfully to the other as far as I’m concerned. For example, I enjoy Frederick Buechner’s and, to a lesser extent, Anne Lamott’s nonfiction books. But I just don’t get their fiction. Rare examples of writers whose fiction and nonfiction are equally enjoyable for me are Madeleine L’Engle and Randy Alcorn. To that list, I can add Jo Kadlecek. At least as far as Woman Overboard is concerned.

In this slim volume’s seven chapters plus prologue, epilogue, and an appended collection of “Life Preservers,” Kadlecek takes a definitive and anecdotal look at the well-lived life. Definitive in that she opens each chapter with etymologies of words, such as “adventure,” “vocation,” “suffer,” and of course, “passion,” with its close companion, “compassion.” Anecdotal in that she frames her musings with biographical anecdotes from her childhood up to the present day. In so doing, Kadlecek combines her gift for storytelling with clear-headed yet emotional brief essays on what gives life meaning, how do we find it, embrace it, and live it with passion when so much of our ordinary days seem bogged down and distracted.

I took about a week to read this less-than-200 page book, because though its chapters are brief, its revelations are not. When a chapter brought me to tears, I did not go on, but instead reflected on the emotional resonance that Truth brings when it shines into our lives, grabs us by the guts, and, I believe, causes a soul response that is part of our being made in the image of God. For example, when she describes the death of her cat through her own neglect, I was moved – and I’m an unequivocal “dog person!” And when she describes her complicated relationship with her mom, their trip to New Zealand, and her final illness, it is raw, reasoned, and responsible--- gut-wrenching and God-wringing.

In addition to her own reflections, Kadlecek sprinkles the book heavily with quotes from a multitude of sacred and secular sources including the Scriptures, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, Shadowlands, hymns, The Wizard of Oz, Saul Bellow, Jon Krakauer, and yes, Frederick Buechner. Alas, no L’Engle or Alcorn. But through her generous mixing of the quotes of others with her own stories and reflections, she shows how the passion of the Passion is the stuff of life and how the Truth is truly out there when we have the Holy Spirit to help us recognize it---no matter the flawed source.

One final word to the negative, however; I don’t think Fresh Air Books did much of a service to Kadlecek in their packaging of this moving book. To wrap such a rich and spicy account of the passionate life well-lived in a bland white cover with a Jackson Pollock-like splash of turquoise splotched under the lower-cased title is book design malpractice 101. So this critique goes out to The Design Works Group who inexplicably takes credit for this mishandling of great material.

To conclude then, with an appropriate cliché: Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Hidden within this unappealing package is an extremely appealing examination of the passionate life. Though now I’m ready for Kadlecek’s next novel!

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.