Summer reads 2015: the year of the midlife crisis
Exactly 50 years after the coining of the term “midlife crisis” readers might be excused for wondering whether this is the year of the midlife crisis novel.
Two novels, one by its title and the other by virtue of having been named one of the 16 best summer reads of 2015, have done belly flops into the normally placid summer reading pool. The former is Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos, and the latter, he & She by Wayne Clark. The two authors take approaches as different as summer and winter but their characters are motivated by nearly identical fears and presentiments about the course of their lives.
The summer blockbuster Summerlong was described by Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, as a story for adults about adults going wild one summer in the tiny town of Grinnell, Iowa. Its main characters, a deeply indebted real estate agent named Don, who is haunted by the ghost of an alcoholic father, and his wife Claire, a writer originally from Manhattan who hasn’t written in a decade, or, more precisely, since having had her promising career supplanted by all-consuming motherhood. Charles describes them as always teetering between despair and bliss.
Both main characters, Don and Claire, are around 40, perhaps younger than most people who walk into a spotless glass window called midlife crisis. Heltzel, in her review, points out that in terms of marriage we often talk about the Seven-Year Itch. In Claire’s case, the “get-me-outa-here” moment doesn’t occur until Year 15. Midlife crisis doesn’t have a schedule.
From Don’s point of view, according to a New York Times review by Jennifer B. McDonald his “long, mostly happy” marriage is in a state of putrefaction.
In Clark’s he & She, the middle-aged protagonist, Kit, realizes through an alcohol haze that the soul that once wanted to translate great literature and play great music has evaporated somewhere along the way. He doesn’t have a marriage to blame it on, just himself. Like Claire in Summerlong, Kit is all but friendless.
In his desperation, Kit all but invents a solution, latching onto an image of a young woman he finds while aimlessly browsing the Internet. She turns out to be a dominatrix. He has never met a dominatrix in his life, nor considered seeing one. But in his befuddlement he convinces himself against all logic that she will be his salvation, and the pursuit begins.
Summerlong comes to an end with Don and Claire in a booze-fueled night with other partners at a lake near their little town. The Times described the lot of them as “libidinous, delusional and increasingly intoxicated.” Though the Times calls the tale a “muddle of fantasy and emotional baggage,” the characters are seeking the same resurrection as Kit sitting alone in his apartment on a hot and humid Manhattan night. They all want to taste life again.
A review of he & She by IndieReader summed up the last-ditch, mad search for meaning as: “A remarkable investigation of a man attempting to save himself from stagnation.”
Summer reads? Why not.