Change of Life Books

I used to despise the genre of the male “change of life.” (I don’t like the expression”midlife crisis” because it erases the physiological aspects of this process). Now I feel a lot more compassionate towards it because I understand it better.

Unfortunately, even though there is a rich “change of life” genre in women’s literature, it’s useless. Almost without exception, it’s about women who have reached the change of life stage* in a completely infantilized state and decide finally to grow up. (Think Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or Esther Tusquets’s The Same Sea as great examples.) And then they almost invariably fail and self-infantilize even further.

For women who grew up long before hitting 40, this is boring and irrelevant. What do I care about some coddled, spoiled woman who’s pouting at the world for not taking her seriously when she’s done nothing to deserve being taken seriously?

But I have never read any novels about adult, mature, non-infantilized women who reach this stage. Any recommendations, anybody?

When men write about the male change of life, they come up with Don Quixote. When women do, they come up with Mrs. Dalloway. It’s understandable why this was true in Cervantes’s time but what about today?

* Not to be confused with menopause. The stage I’m talking about happens in the decade before menopause. There are specific words for it in many languages but absolutely nothing in English because God forbid English-speakers are made to notice that physiology exists. No, you are supposed to be all about will-power, individual choices, and a disembodied spiritual existence.

17 thoughts on “Change of Life Books”

  1. // The stage I’m talking about happens in the decade before menopause. There are specific words for it in many languages but absolutely nothing in English because God forbid English-speakers are made to notice that physiology exists.

    How does it sound in Russian?

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      1. For non-Russian speakers: the word is “climax”.

        I thought that word referred to exactly the same thing as menopause. I mean, sure, it’s more positive, but I didn’t think it referred to a time period as opposed to “menopause” referring to a single time point.

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        1. No, these are completely different things. They are related because one leads to another. But menopause is what happens in your fifties (obviously, there’s variation depending on genetic and other factors) and the stage I’m talking about starts 10 years prior.

          In some cases, it’s possible to start menopause at 40 but it’s not normal and not a great sign.

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          1. ” it’s possible to start menopause at 40 but it’s not normal and not a great sign”

            Florence King (knowledgeable about southern US sexual mores) would disagree, early menopause was a great status marker for white women in the south (it was thought to be a sign of aristocratic ancestry…).

            Polish has klimakterium (which I’d previously thought of as menopause and now I’m not so sure)….

            Also, as I think I’ve written before, emotional immaturity is part of American performance of femininity) I’d never thought twice about it before living in a place where it absolutely wasn’t part of femininity (spontaneous illogical willfulness yes, immaturity no). So a positive spin on life change literature in the US is going to involve the protagonist facing adversity until she can act childishly again…

            I think in American terms such narratives will also involve sudden widowhood… it’s not the kind of thing I would be likely to read about but movies about adult women experience middle aged life change usually involve a husband kicking the bucket…. though then the ultimate climax (so to speak) of the story is her finding a new man she can act childishly toward….

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            1. Very interesting about the southern take on early menopause! Where I come from, it’s a stigma because it means you have never given birth + aren’t sexually active. A very curious regional thing.

              So great to see somebody who immediately understands what I mean about immaturity as part of femininity. I notice it precisely because I’m from a different part of the world. I in no way want to suggest that our view of femininity is all that amazing. It has a lot of very toxic stuff attached to it. But it definitely doesn’t have childishness attached to it.

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          2. OK, so if the Russian word климакс does not mean “menopause”, then what’s the Russian word for menopause?

            I searched for the Russian transliteration (менопауза), and Russian Wikipedia told me it’s the same thing.

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  2. In Italian there is the same word as in Polish (though the Polish is clearly barely disguised Latin, itself coming from the original Greek term): “climaterio”.

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  3. “Climaterio”, meaning the period leading up to the menopause, though I am not sure it lasts ten years…
    English does have the expression “the prime of life”, after which everything is supposed to be a dramatic anti-cilmax, which may be why Clarissa does not think it could be an appropriate equivalent.

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    1. I like “the prime of life” and I do have a feeling that after a few years of this prime a dramatic anti-climax will be very welcome.

      It doesn’t have to last 10 years, of course. This is largely genetic. Let’s say, it can start anywhere in the prior 10 years and it’s a total bastard.

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  4. Good point. This may be why I became disenfranchised with fiction. I started reading biographies and find so much courage and inspiration from true life stories of the triumph of the human spirit. America is rich with courageous stories. I want to be like my heroes: old Ben Franklin, Daniel Webster, Louisa May Alcott. And I have learned rich life lessons from Elisabeth Elliott. Mid life stories should be filled with experiences that inspire the best in the younger generation not the drivel you describe and much of what is so rife in our cutrent culture.

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