NEW PASSAGES: Mapping Your Life Across Time by Gail Sheehy

NEW PASSAGES: Mapping Your Life Across Time

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Here is Passages II, an upbeat, fact-filled, people-rich, but ultimately unsatisfying sequel to the 1976 bestseller. Sheehy's earlier Passages borrowed from Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson of Yale to popularize the theory that the lives of adults as well as children are marked by stages of development, such as the Trying Twenties and Catch-30, until age 50, when it's smooth sailing. Well, Sheehy is in her 50s now and encountering some rough waters, so she's added a few more stages—the Flaming Fifties, the Uninhibited Eighties—to her earlier scenario. Moreover, she declares, "There is a revolution in the life cycle." Puberty arrives sooner, and adolescence lasts longer. "First Adulthood" begins around 30, segueing into "Second Adulthood," which lasts from about ages 45 to 85. During that time, women struggle with menopause—and perhaps, she suggests provocatively, so do men. Both reframe their lives, women pushing the envelope on their careers and men often confronting corporate downsizing. Age 50 is also fraught with crises of mortality and meaning, giving passage to the Serene Sixties and Sage Seventies. Throughout are rich interviews with both working class and white collar/professional men and women coping--not always successfully—with the stresses of growing older. The flaw in this book lies in the very reason Sheehy wrote it. Labeling generations ("Silent," "Vietnam," "Endangered") and relabeling Erikson's Age of Generativity as the Age of Integrity mask the fact that life cycle changes are happening so fast that it's too soon to develop a perspective. Sheehy's confidence in the efficacy of exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and an optimistic attitude to hold back the effects of aging is well placed. But these constitute only one step in combating society's aversion to people with wrinkles and walkers, to say nothing of the millions of elderly living below the poverty line. A mix of inventive speculation and solid information--on impotence and menopause among the latter--but its impact is diluted by horoscope-like predictions and (though Sheehy surveyed thousands of people) a penchant for presenting anecdote as evidence.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1995
ISBN: 0345404459
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random