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Book Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough

If you have not yet discovered the wit and wisdom of Ruth Pennebaker, get thyself over to the Fabulous Geezersisters this second. The impeccable writing and larger life lessons astound me, post after post.

I share this recommendation today, of all days, because I just finished Pennebaker’s newest book — Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough.

When Life Sucketh, A Girl Must Laugh

Loyal readers know that, around here, the last 16 months or so have sucked beyond all suckage … necessitating a Dog Recharging Station and no small amount of Magic Chocolate Coping Pie. That I remain upright and functional is no less than a mental, emotional, and physical miracle. Not kidding.

What do you do, exactly, when pretty much everyone in your life is sick and/or dying?

You just keep going.

So, I found myself uncannily motivated by Pennebaker’s title alone. Frankly, it describes me and many others in my circle of family and friends to a T.

Based on her other writing, I knew I could count on Pennebaker for a respite from and a laugh about real life. I’ve had a hard time reading lately because I’m so distracted, so if a book can hold MY attention, that’s saying something.

Pennebaker’s book does NOT disappoint. It’s funny and aggravating at the same time, as three generations of women live in the same house (not by choice) and muddle the best they can through their individual and collective dramas.

An exercise in perspectives — generational, mother-daughter, and otherwise — Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough reveals the grace and humor, frustration and (yes) anger, that consumes us … especially at times of big transitions.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a scene involving pantyhose and a desk that took me by surprise. I laughed so hard that I awoke a sleeping Ginko. He would not stop barking at me because I could not stop laughing.

Check out this Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough book trailer video, where Pennebaker explains the novel’s plot.

And, this blog post about being an author with a new book is a hoot: My New Career as an Extrovert (I’m looking at YOU, Maery Rose … aka Cowgirl by Proxy)

A Namesake Within

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I “know” Pennebaker through both my work as a writer/journalist and as a blogger. We’ve never actually met.

Over these many months, she never once said that one of the main characters in the book is named ROXANNE. Seriously.

Granted, since college the woman has preferred people call her Joanie, but still. The fact remains that her given first name is ROXANNE.

The Roxanne Story

Personally, I cannot imagine giving up the name (annoyance over the Police song aside).

This probably sounds arrogant, but I love, Love, LOVE my name. Love it, even more when combined with Tom’s last name. I like how it looks in my byline. I like that people don’t butcher the pronunciation. I like that it’s unusual.

I knew absolutely ZERO other girls named Roxanne, growing up. Zero. In my grown-up life, I’ve met just two other women named Roxanne, one of whom blanches at the full usage and prefers people call her Roxy.

Me and My Gram in the background. My mom, sis, and brother in front.

Family and (some) friends call me that, but I NEVER in a million years would introduce myself like that professionally. I just wouldn’t. And, if I did, it would be spelled Roxie, not Roxy … because I’m a pixie writer girl, not a stripper.

Family legend says that because I was “supposed to be a boy” my parents didn’t even pick out a girl’s name, so when I came out WAY too early, they were at a loss.

Word has it that my Grandma (my mom’s mom, who played a HUGE role in my childhood) lobbed the name into the fray, when they feared I wouldn’t make it and did an emergency baptism in the neonatal ICU. Her name was Carmella, but everyone called her Millie. (long story)

Which Brings Us Back to Pennebaker’s Book … and, yes, dogs

How, you might be wondering, can I tie this book review to dogs?

Watch this.

The name change and its symbolic meaning for Pennebaker’s character isn’t all that different from performance dogs having a registered name and a “call name.”

For example, our friend Cathy Lester‘s new puppy is both:

Mihran BTO Back in Black



Mihran is the name of the mommy dog’s kennel. And BTO stands for Black Tie Optional, which comes from Cathy’s late border collie Jeffrey. And, squee … back in black comes from the fact that Jeffrey was red/white and Victor is black/white. (Cracks me up)

I suppose I can see how some people want/need a call name other than their given name … especially when they are going through a tough time. I know there are times (lately) when a stunt double would come in handy too.

I know many of you choose NOT to use your real names online, and I suppose that’s sort of the same thing.

One of my favorite registered name / call name experiences comes from a agility national championship video. The commentator referred to a friend’s dog as “another BC named Bailey.”

I was aghast, assuming it was meant to be funny, but it turns out that Bailey’s registered name is indeed “Another BC Named Bailey.”

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Donna Hull - January 22, 2011

I’m amazed at how you wove a review of Ruth’s book into changing names and dog culture. I’m in the middle of Ruth’s book right now and you’re review is spot on.
About those names, my former husband’s grandmother was named Priscilla but the family called her Sippie, which I loved. My mother, however, could never get the name right and always called her Zippy.

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. - January 11, 2011

LOVE the comparison of registered name/call name to our private and public (or IRL/online) personalities! Now I HAVE to read the book to see why the character symbolically changed her name…

MyKidsEatSquid - January 11, 2011

I agree–what a fun post. I follow Ruth’s blog and it always makes me smile–along with giving me something to think about. (Like your blog!)

Kristine - January 11, 2011

Thanks for linking to the blog and book! They both sound like something I need to read asap.

I love how you were able to tie it into dogs as well. Very nice. 🙂

Sheryl - January 11, 2011

What a fun review. I’m amazed at how you were able to weave this book into your blog. I’m very excited to read the book, which just arrived via Amazon!

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