The Middlepause: On Life After Youth by Marina Benjamin (review)

middlepause_benjamin_catapultPublisher’s Description:

The Middlepause offers a vision of contentment in middle age, without sentiment or delusion. Marina Benjamin weighs the losses and opportunities of our middle years, taking inspiration from literature, science, philosophy, and her own experience. Spurred by her surgical propulsion into a sudden menopause, she finds ways to move forward while maintaining clear-eyed acknowledgment of the challenges of aging. Attending to complicated elderly parents and a teenaged daughter, experiencing bereavement, her own health woes, and a fresh impetus to give, Benjamin emerges into a new definition of herself as daughter, mother, citizen, and woman.

Among The Middlepause‘s many wise observations about no longer being young: “I am discovering that I care less about what other people think.” “My needs are leaner and my storehouse fuller.” “It is not possible to fully appreciate what it means to age without attending to what the body knows. . . . I have always had a knee-jerk distaste for the idea that age is all in the mind.” “You need a cohort of peers to go through the aging process with you. A cackle of crones! A cavalry!” Marina Benjamin’s memoir will serve as a comfort, a companion to women going through the too-seldom-spoken of physical and mental changes in middle age and beyond.

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The day I turned thirty, I was surprised to find it was just a number.  It was abstract.  It had no real meaning, no bearing on me or my identity.  Turning forty was much the same, though I was shocked by someone guessing that I was thirty.  I was accustomed to people thinking I was in my mid-twenties.

Fifty, by contrast, seems monumental.  It is a turning point, a redefining.  As it approaches, my mirror betrays me and cameras flay me with the fact that I am aging.  At times I feel my body is also sabotaging me, as are my emotions.

Marina Benjamin has captured so well this transitional, or as she terms it, liminal state.  In her more personal reflections, the way she communicates the feelings of this time are at once beautifully and bitterly apt.

Though her experience is not exactly mine, the similarities and the feeling of solidarity I found in this slim book are breathtaking.  The Middlepause explores many facets of this time, navigating the changing parent/child and adult child/aging parent dynamics as well as contemplating the perceptions and experiences in the medical, emotional, and social spheres.  While this memoir does burrow into the personal, the author also mines the fields of literature, medicine, and popular theories and methods from the past and present for information regarding this time of life and shares her findings.

I am more than a little skeptical and do not have the time or energy for middle-age self-help books and gurus.  The Middlepause, though, is literature and has sunk into my skin.  It is reporting from the trenches, rather than the safe distance of clinical study or the retrospective reinventions that lead to how-to’s that are all rah-rah and rules.

Quite quickly, as I read, I began to think about buying copies for my three sisters who are on either side of fifty, and for each of my friends who will reach this age with me this year.  For women going through or approaching this liminal time, or for those who know a woman who is, this is a book that I highly recommend.

The Middlepause : On Life After Youth by Marina Benjamin | Catapult, March 14, 2017 | paperback, 208 pages

This review refers to an Advance Reading Copy/Uncorrected Proof of The Middlepause: On Turning Fifty won in a GoodReads giveaway, courtesy of the publisher.  As with all GoodReads First Reads giveaways, a review was not required but is encouraged.  All opinions expressed are my own. I noted many quotes as I read but did not include them here as they may not match the finished copy.