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Onyx reviews: Butterflies Do Not Sleep in Hot Tubs by Nancy McCoy

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 2000

It is tempting to jokingly refer to Nancy McCoy's book as Chicken Soup for the Lawyer's Soul, especially given that it is subtitled: "A Lawyer's Tortured Search for Truth." However, between these covers is nothing so bland as chicken soup. Gumbo, perhaps, or a well-spiced chili.

Butterflies... is a collection of over three dozen short essays on life. McCoy is living with her eyes wide open and, in these vignettes, creates some thought-provoking, funny, sad and memorable images. Even though many of the essays pertain to her life as a law student or lawyer, McCoy's observations are universal. They are -- as they used to say on TV -- things that make you go "hmmm."

McCoy learns from just about everyone she meets, it seems. She recalls encounters with a former mentor and a legal secretary at her firm with equal fondness. She even has a take-home message from a run-in with a beagle where she came out second best. She takes a critical look at her own priorities when she realizes that one year she spent more money on lawn care than she gave to charity.

While McCoy now works as an attorney for a large company ("helping the big fish eat the small fish" is how she describes it), she has a rich past as a people's advocate. She describes several cases in which her opponents were large insurance companies that would rather force a policy holder into court than pay out claims. In one case, her client turns down a settlement offer because being found right is more important than the monetary rewards. In another, her client agrees to a settlement partway through the trial. McCoy derives lessons from both of these outcomes. Her skill -- and her art -- is in looking beyond right or wrong to see what can be learned from any situation.

McCoy writes in a conversational style. She relates these anecdotes in much the same way that you might expect her to do over dinner or at a bar with a group of friends. Occasionally bawdy, quite often sentimental and more often than not with a wry smile just below the surface. Her anecdotes address serious issues ("Why Women Don't Report Rape"), she indulges herself in a couple of rants (concerning the OJ Simpson case and Oprah's encounter with the veggie libel law) and offers a fable or two.

These are stories from an ordinary life. In spite of the fact that she is now a lawyer, McCoy's life experiences will be familiar to most: Getting married, having children, working toward a career, taking risks and then learning how to change gears when the risks don't work out the way they were supposed to. Everyone has funny stories to tell about family members, friends or total strangers. But not everyone is able to derive a significant lesson from these encounters and grow from the experience.

The truths that McCoy has learned in the course of her life, the ones she shares with readers in this book, are not lofty philosophical truisms. They are, rather, honest lessons that will inspire readers to look more carefully at people around them and to consider the important lessons in everyday life.

McCoy, a Houston lawyer and Adjunct Professor of Law at University of Houston, resides in Willis. "Butterflies Do Not Sleep in Hot Tubs" is generally available at bookstores in the Houston area and at the odd pool supply shop. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book goes to the Harry Chapin Foundation.

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