A thoughtful, morose meditation on aging.



Middle age makes the writer feel “ambushed and laid bare.”

Journalist and memoirist Benjamin (Last Days in Babylon: The History of a Family, the Story of a Nation, 2006, etc.) did not enter menopause gradually, but suddenly after a hysterectomy at the age of 48. The change in her body was immediate: her hair became dull, her skin sagged, her energy diminished; and these changes corresponded to a spiritual and mental flagging. In a memoir notable for its autumnal, rueful tone, the author chronicles her experiences as she approached, and then passed, the age of 50, beset by losses: “of vigor, organs, luster” and “an unquestioning faith in possibility.” She disputes feminists who see “fifty as the new forty, and forty the new thirty.” For her, 50 means she will be “over the hill. Ahead of me, just as I am able to take command of the view, the incline runs downward.” Benjamin’s perception of aging has been shaped by physical problems that not all women share—e.g., scoliosis led to a bulging disk in her vertebrae and chronically painful sciatica. She is exquisitely attuned to “an imperceptible dulling of sight or hearing, a barely noticeable decline in the number of neurons firing or in the strength of firing,” an “ever-so-gradual slowing” and increasing fatigue. The author has a “knee-jerk distaste” for upbeat popular writings that hail the possibilities and opportunities of middle age. Age, she insists, is not “all in the mind” but unarguably embodied. She does not acknowledge, however, that bodies differ, and the difficulties—“this crisis, this onslaught of unwelcome change, this punch in the face”—that she has experienced may not afflict her contemporaries. For Benjamin, writing this book has been therapeutic: “Interrogating my anxieties, my grief, my sense of loss, my nostalgia, my hauntings, all of this has been a form of exorcism.”

A thoughtful, morose meditation on aging.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-936787-34-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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