Ontario Superior Court Justice Wailan Low wrote of Winners and Losers: “This collection gives a front-row seat onto the field of battle.” While I agree with Justice Low, this amalgam of chapter vignettes from retired lawyer and literary artist, Darlene Madott, is so much more.
I love Madott’s style of writing. There is nothing like it. She draws you in at first most subtly but then as she delves more deeply into her characters you find yourself entranced by the shifts, turns, and surprises that she brings to her pages.
All 20 gripping chapters are interwoven within this single tome replete with aspirations, pathos, struggle, and even an appropriate smidgen of humour. The common thread is Madott’s quasi (or perhaps not so “quasi” but who knows?) autobiographical account of the challenges that a female civil litigation and family law lawyer faces in a renowned Toronto boutique litigation firm.
While Madott has a penchant for delivering you ever so expertly into her deepest thoughts, fears, insecurities, hopes, and aspirations, she still has a penchant to accompany us into the consciousnesses of those who grace these pages: clients, colleagues, dear friends, and even the proverbial scoundrel ex-spouse.
But the most incredible and captivating part of the experience of reading this book is the self-effacing and seemingly brutally honest depiction of Madott’s main protagonist – Francesca Malotti.
Madott truly brings Francesca to life. Is Francesca Madott’s alter ego? Francesca is at the center of each of the standalone pieces that work together to bring us “Winners and Losers”. You come to appreciate what it means to practice civil and family law in a mostly male-dominated civil litigation firm. Francesca struggles admirably with a toxic and then failed marriage while raising her only son who is quite understandably the epicenter of her existence. There are ups; there are downs. And the vicissitudes of life and legal practice, while striking resonance with the lawyer-reader, also should ring true for anyone who appreciates inspiring literature.
Confession and full disclosure: This reviewer practiced family law at Darlene’s firm for two years at the end of the eighties. Who knew back then that the unassuming and yet so always very helpful Darlene had so much expressive talent? But she sure does. So if you want to read a relatively short work that consists of distinct chapters that still captivate and encapsulate your attention, causing you to hesitate to put this book down while you read from chapter to chapter, curious as to what can happen next – then this book is for you.
“For you”? Yes, for all lawyers – family law and otherwise. But it’s not just for lawyers. There are valuable life lessons in these precious nuggets of love, life, and law. Yet Madott certainly does not preach. Her writing style is decidedly understated. Life’s lessons seep through by gentle osmosis. How would I have handled that situation, you find yourself ruminating. It’s a thinking and perhaps a contemplative person’s book but don’t worry – the stories’ twists and turns are most entertaining.
After I wrote this review, I happened to notice on the inside title page a subtext to the book’s title: “Tales of Life, Law, Love and Loss”. I agree 100%.
I like this book.
And “highly” at that.