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Shark attacks on dry land: Rene Lynch on Dr. Laura's tips

February 24, 2011 |  9:00 am

I feel betrayed by Laura Schlessinger’s new book, “How to Survive a Shark Attack (on Land): Overcoming Betrayal and Dealing With Revenge.”

The conservative -– and controversial -- radio talk show host is known for doling out advice to callers wrestling with a variety of moral and ethical dilemmas. For her legions of listeners, Dr. Laura’s pointed, no-nonsense advice offers a voyeuristic treat. (Love her or hate her, there’s nothing quite like listening to Dr. Laura let some “shack-up honey” have it with both barrels.)

Dr. Laura similarly uses callers’ vignettes to great effect –- as teaching tools -- in her bestsellers such as “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” and “Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives.” But that element is sadly, sorely lacking from “Shark Attack.”

Her book is a trim 200 pages, buoyed by pages of famous quotes. The first three-quarters is largely consumed with Dr. Laura’s cogitations on the nature of betrayal and its motivations. But I picked up this book so I could tuck up my feet, dig into some popcorn and enjoy a guilt-free glimpse into the betrayal playing out in other people’s lives.

Listening from that safe and secure perch allows me to cluck “Oh, no, he DIDN’T!” and fantasize about what I’d do in that same situation. In truth, I like to think of Dr. Laura’s books and radio program as a practice run for the real thing. And, let’s face it, absolutely everyone will grapple with betrayal at least once in their lives. Unfortunately, there’s painfully little of those teaching moments in this little book.

Even the examples from Dr. Laura’s life are hard to grab onto,

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given how intentionally vague they are. (Example, on page 92: “A betrayer got slapped down -– not for what she’d done to me for many years straight but for breaking a rule in that venue in which she wove her web of nastiness.” Huh?)

If you were hoping for the skinny on Dr. Laura’s most recent controversy, think again. Schlessinger made headlines last August when she clashed with an African American listener who complain about racial comments made by acquaintances. Schlessinger questioned whether the caller was being "hypersensitive," noting that many African Americans use the very racial epithet –- the N-word -- that offends them so. In making her point, Schlessinger used the N-word repeatedly. She apologized within hours, but the controversy exploded.

Schlessinger soon announced that she would be leaving terrestrial radio for Sirius XM satellite      radio, where she has been since the beginning of the year. Dr. Laura deals with the incident briefly, succinctly, in an epilogue that doesn’t go much beyond what has already been said.

Still, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from “How to Survive a Shark Attack.” Revenge is the easy way to deal with betrayal, Dr. Laura says, but the more productive way is recognizing the backstabber in your life and making the conscious decision to coolly disengage –- even if it means cutting that person out of your life forever.

She challenges readers to use betrayal as an opportunity to take a long, hard look at themselves and deal with it: “Either stand up for yourself -- or move on. Those are the only two means of growth.”

In her introduction, Dr. Laura says many of her previous books were written to address a need in  society –- a need she identified from the calls she received daily. “This book is different,” she writes. “The genesis of this book is my personal rage.” If her intention was to vent that rage, then the book no doubt hits its mark.

It’s just that readers are left wanting more. Much more. The book could have delivered on both fronts if its ratios were reversed -– perhaps one-quarter personal reminiscing and exposition and three-quarters dealing with those delicious examples of betrayal –- and Dr. Laura’s nuts-and-bolts, no-nonsense advice for handling them.

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / @renelynch


--AUDIO: Dr. Laura drops the N-Word

--USC professors' tips for creative writing workshops

--Will the real Urban Homesteader please stand up

Photo credit: Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images