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Walker, Glynnis.

Toronto. Doubleday. c1986. 2l8pp, cloth. $19.95. ISBN 0-385-25039-8. CIP

Reviewed by Glenn DiPasquale

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

To begin with the positive, this book is very well produced and Walker is an excellent writer. She makes some very insightful and thought-provoking points about our current attitudes toward divorce, marriage, and children, particularly in chapters 5, 8, and 10, where she discusses custody disputes, stepfamilies, and future prospects. So much for the positive.

The remainder of the book is seriously flawed by a strident tone, extreme cynicism, weak research, and a very bitter and self-serving perspective. Also, although not necessarily a flaw, it is worth noting that the book's content is heavily American, especially where matters of law are discussed. The author repeatedly references the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which is not only American, but also, though it is sixteen years old, has not even been adopted yet in all states. Her arguments supporting its relevancy are not convincing.

Much of the support for the author's opinions comes from her so-called research study, in which over one thousand questionnaires were sent to people answering newspaper, radio, and TV advertisements. Great weight is given to this data, apparently without knowledge of the research that has cast serious doubt on the representativeness of people who volunteer for such a study. In fact, such volunteers tend to be those who hold extreme opinions. Furthermore, the author admits to a mere thrity-five per cent return rate, seventy per cent of them women. Over half of the sample (188 out of 368) were students, and 145 of those were post secondary level students. The author glosses over these statistics, but it is obvious that the Sample is too small, extremely biased, and not random or representative of children of divorce. This is an important point, since the major "myth of divorce" the author is out to explode with these data is that the negative effects of divorce are exaggerated.

A majority of the respondents to the questionnaire indicated that their parents' divorce was traumatic at the time, but within a few years they generally developed a positive view of it. Walker takes these responses at face value, probably unaware of the psychological defense mechanism known as cognitive dissonance, which could also explain these results.

There is a great deal that is disturbing in this book. Chapters 3 and 4, for example, are bitter attacks on children and divorced mothers, making them out to be highly overrated by society and both schemers and themselves pawns in the schemes of the establishment. There are paranoid descriptions of "the press, the intellectuals, the politicians" somehow conspiring to manipulate the fabric of society for selfish purposes. Divorced mothers are depicted as almost crazed, vengeful parasites who coldly use their children "to gain control over their ex-husbands or over the state." In chapter 4, the author even appears to condone parental kidnapping, and worse, perpetuates the vicious myth that father-daughter incest is the fault of a cold wife; a chauvinistic fallacy thoroughly disproved). The hook is replete with media accounts of women mistreating their children, or cruelly manipulating their ex-husbands, and these are cited as typical examples of the behaviour of divorced women. It appears that Walker really believes these to be average Americans whose behaviour can be generalized. It never seems to occur to her that if these people were normal they never would have made the papers.

The author also has a problem with consistency, often contradicting herself. One of the many examples of this is her quoting a study showing that "young people who lived with single mothers were more likely to have dropped out of school than those living in two-parent households."This contradicts the premise of the book itself that divorce has no lasting effects on children. Later in the book another study is cited indicating that children "who live with divorced mothers actually do better on achievement tests and have fewer school problems than those from intact homes "because divorced parents pay more attention to their children and make a greater effort to get involved in every facet of their lives, including school." (Italics mine). This not only contradicts the earlier cited study, but it makes a case for single mothers to stay at home with their children, though the author had earlier advocated strongly for lower support payments from ex-hushands (of which the author's husband is one) to force such women into the workforce.

One could go on citing such examples. It must show that I do not like this book much. In fact, it is an offensive book to women, children, and especially divorced mothers. I cannot recommend it.

Glenn DiPasquale. York Region Board of Education, Newmarket, Ont.
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