BookLife Review and Prize Critic’s Report

Jacobson’s debut is an elegant, engaging account of her life as a wife and mother facing a harrowing marriage, then as a single parent and eventual successful business executive. Unappreciated, obese, and struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder, Marsha accepts Peter’s proposal even when she knows instinctively that “this marriage would nail me into a very bad box.” Later, even while dealing with divorce and a vengeful Peter, and mothering two little girls, she joins Harvard Business School. Though plagued by illness, she completes her course as “a decent student … but not a star,” and then starts work, happy to provide for her daughters. (Promised support from Peter never comes.) She marries longtime friend Jay, who is recovering from his wife’s suicide, but Jay’s traumatic childhood comes to haunt their marriage.

Jacobson’s excellent storytelling skills make the memoir riveting. She plunges us straight into the heart of things right from the beginning and is able to maintain this steady pace through the book. At the same time, the narrative is thoughtful and reflective when the story demands. Unpredictable and domineering, Peter is the most interesting character in the book, though for negative reasons. So is Judge Samuel. Marsha’s second husband Jay, meanwhile, endures the far-reaching consequences of childhood abuse, sensitive material that Jacobson handles with insight and empathy. Minnie and Julia, Marsha’s grandmothers, are incredibly strong and empathetic women who with their kindness and help support their neglected grandchild.

Jacobson’s career takes her to fascinating places, such as Mattel headquarters in Japan, and she captures them and their cultures with nuance and welcome bursts of wit. She addresses work challenges and the several ways in which she tackled them. Her obvious passion for her chosen career is evident in these anecdotes. Jacobson’s never-say-die attitude, her immense love for her two girls, and her strong narrative skills make this memoir an absorbing and rewarding read. 

 

BookLife Prize Critic's Report by Publishers Weekly.

This fast-paced, insightful survey of a young woman’s trials and successes is, at its heart, a stunning story of resilience that will resonate with readers. Jacobson’s personal history is riveting, from her troubled childhood to a controlling marriage to a sudden, debilitating health issue. Readers will be infused with empathy and admiration as Jacobson rises from the ashes each time. Jacobson is a talented writer and particularly strong storyteller. Her tone is relaxed and informal, but it’s her narrative approach that draws readers in, offering up a perfect amount of detail paired with expressive wording. 

The Wrong Calamity is a survivor’s story filled with distinctive challenges and a determined, unique protagonist. This is Jacobson’s personal story, and as such, her character shines through, but she fully conveys qualities about others in her life that immediately transport readers into the center of her experiences. 

Review from Kirkus

A successful business owner shares her stories of love, loss, and survival in this debut memoir.

Born “in the whoosh of baby boomers” in a Lafayette, Indiana hospital whose wards were “named with Bible references,” Jacobson spent her life breaking glass ceilings all over the globe as a successful business executive and management consultant. After moving up the corporate ladder in Tokyo, Jacobson returned to the U.S. to become the vice president of operations at Fidelity Investments. While she does chart her career’s trajectory, work takes a backseat in this deeply personal memoir, which focuses on the lasting impacts of abusive relationships. The book begins with Jacobson’s recollection of the summer before she entered sixth grade, with her mother frantically moving her children out of their New Jersey home to return to Indiana while her father was at work. This destabilizing, abrupt move not only severed the author’s relationship with her father and paternal grandmother, but also set the stage for the rest of the memoir. The spontaneity that initially sparked her attraction to her first husband, for instance, developed into an explosive volatility. Her second marriage was damaged by her husband’s PTSD, which was untreated. This frank depiction of ruined family ties and childhood trauma offers cleareyed insights into the human psyche and addresses why so many people find it hard to leave abusive relationships. Given Jacobson’s background as a business leader, her decision to write her memoir is particularly courageous. The author’s candor may be useful to readers looking to learn from Jacobson’s experiences and start making better decisions for themselves. Its inclusion of small group discussion questions (centered on decisions the author made inside her relationships) reflects the book’s emphasis on encouraging other women to think deeply about their own choices in finding or keeping a partner.

An affecting, personal exploration of toxic relationships.

Review from Midwest Book Review

The Wrong Calamity: A Memoir opens with Marsha Jacobson’s birth “in the whoosh of baby boomers” in Indiana and then reveals her life with an abusive husband. It deftly answers the question of why intelligent women marry into such a situation, much less stay in it – and perhaps seldom in the literature is the answer so clear. Jacobson saw no other opportunities, and no way out. The irony lies in the fact that, more than many other women in her position, Jacobson fell into a form of business success that theoretically gave her numerous resources and alternative options. As she became more successful, however, her husband became more abusive. Only when she returned to familiar territory, leaving her sojourn in Japan for America, was she able to flee, two toddlers in tow, into a better life.

Also more vividly portrayed than most stories of abuse and freedom are the slow-simmering revelations Jacobson experienced as her relationship with Peter evolved. From his quick temper and jealousy to how she changed from a woman who gave her husband complete charge of their honeymoon plans to one who came to question her very presence in his life, the progressive realizations are nicely presented and compellingly written. Jacobson’s ability to delineate the transformations, realizations, and influences that led her to revise her life and future will prove inspirational to other women facing the same situation. She documents an evolutionary growth that deserves equal discussion in psychology and book reading groups for its specific insights and realizations.

The impact of her progressive determination and contributions to the relationship is hard-hitting and eye-opening. From her re-entry into dating and the snafus that led to new realizations about those she chose and her moral and ethical foundations to business and personal growth choices, Jacobson creates a powerful story of calamity, discovery, and change. This will serve as an inspiration (and road map) to other women facing similar conundrums.

Libraries and readers seeking stories of not just escape from abuse, but considerations of the financial, psychology, and social influences on their evolution, will find The Wrong Calamity enlightening, revealing, and hard to put down.

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