This debut story collection by a New York–based psychiatrist/psychoanalyst with long-standing literary connections delves into the complicated relationships and intimate sex lives of mature couples.
Old (and middle-aged) people have sex, too: appointment sex and spontaneous sex, passionate sex and perfunctory sex, sex with young lovers and aging spouses. That’s the key takeaway from this unflinchingly candid collection. With a few notable exceptions, the women on whom the bulk of Heyman’s stories center have lived and loved. Many have raised children, lost longtime partners, and survived to love again. But “scary old sex,” to borrow Heyman’s perhaps only partly ironic titular description, may involve squinting past sagging flesh, wrinkles, and puckers, accepting thinning hair (a byproduct of aging that apparently affects areas beyond one’s head), readying boxes of tissues and K-Y Jelly, and, most challenging of all, learning to meld oneself to a new partner who differs in startling and lamentable ways from the youthful loves of yore. “He came in naked and she remembered again why she did not like to make love in the daytime,” Marianne, the remarried widow who narrates the collection’s first story, “The Loves of Her Life,” remarks of her kindly second husband, Stu. “She joked sometimes that no one over forty should be allowed to make love in the daytime. There he was, every wrinkle exposed, as if he were in a Lucian Freud painting.” Marianne and the other women Heyman evokes are equally imperfect—occasionally cruel, sometimes neglectful, often regretful. But these very flaws make these characters so real and dimensional, their stories so readable and resonant. Are Heyman’s stories, which reflect three decades of work, based on the lives of her patients, her own life, a product of her imagination? The reader may well wonder. Yet one story, “In Love With Murray,” which follows the affair of an older artist and a young art student and which was written “in memory of Bernard Malamud,” may well have been inspired by the author’s reputed affair with the renowned author, with whom she studied as a young coed at Bennington College. Heyman has been described as Malamud’s muse. Judging from these stories, he may have been hers as well.
The stories in this keenly observed collection lay bare truths—some comforting, others uncomfortable—about love and sex, aging and acceptance.