One-Minute Book Reviews

March 3, 2011

Women, Age and Hollywood – Quote of the Day From Tracey Jackson’s ‘Between and Rock and a Hot Place: Why 50 Is Not the New 30’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:52 am
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Screenwriter Tracey Jackson talks about women in film and television in her new Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is Not the New Thirty (Harper, 287 pp., $25.99):

“In Hollywood 30 is considered 80, especially where women are concerned. This attitude tends to affect actresses first, but the second group on its hit list is usually writers, particularly those who write comedy, a genre not very friendly to women to begin with. …

“As in every profession, there are exceptions to the rule, and one of the biggest exceptions, if not the biggest, is that if you are a superstar in your field by the time you are 50, you can skid forward to at least 60. … You can run down a list of women in their 50s and 60s in top jobs, but I promise you every one of them was a superstar in her world by no later than 45. The general consensus seems to be that if you haven’t made it by then, the chances are you aren’t going to, so why keep you around?”

November 16, 2009

Not by Zweibach Alone – Rhoda Janzen’s Memoir, ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:13 pm
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A daughter of “the Mennonite equivalent of the pope” goes home

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home. Holt, 241 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

A librarian here in New Jersey found recently that books about the Amish now outnumber Amish people.* If the attention this memoir is getting is an indication, Mennonites are the new Amish — a paradox given that Mennonites are, in fact, the old Amish: The Amish tradition arose in the late 17th century as an offshoot of the more liberal Mennonite faith.

Rhoda Janzen is a daughter of “the Mennonite equivalent of the pope” who returned in middle age to the religious community of her youth. She had left it first for “studded black minis, enormous hair, fuchsia lipstick, and preposterously high Manolos” and then for a career as a poet and English professor. But several events drove her back to California, including a serious car accident and a divorce from her husband of 15 years, who left her for a man he met on Gay.com. She describes her sojourn in Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a slangy and often amusing report on her experiences in a land of soft two-tiered buns called Zwiebach, served with homemade rhubarb jam. One experience involved the Mennonite equivalent of a pick-up line. Janzen says that a male rocker once approached her in a supermarket parking lot with: “If you’re a single woman of God, I surely wish you’d e-mail me.”

For a self-declared “grammarian,” Janzen shows a oddly shaking command of the nuances of English usage. She uses “shoe-in” for shoo-in, “timber” for timbre and has a weakness for the cute, which shows up when she tries to explain Mennonite views on sex. “Keep your pervy pecker in your pants, mister,” she writes. “Mennonite gals do not put out, no matter how alluring we are in our bonnets and aprons.” Janzen also seems unwilling or unable to reflect deeply on how her strict upbringing might have fed her decision to stay for so long with an emotionally abusive husband. She says she remained in her marriage because her parents never fought during her childhood and getting divorced “was something other people did” — a explanation that isn’t fully persuasive when she had broken by then with many other Mennonite traditions.

But the tone of the book so breezy, you waft though it. And occasionally Janzen lets you see how perceptive she can be when she drops the shtick and describes her life straight up. One such moment occurs when she reconnects with a friend who, though much like her, had stayed within the Mennonite fold and lived a more conventional life within it:

“Here was Eva, who could have made such different choices with her education and career path. Here was I, with my decades of restless travel, my brilliant but tortured ex-husband. And how sad it suddenly seemed to be buffeted by the powerful currents to which we had yielded our lives. So many years had passed. My childhood, my early friendships, my long marriage, all seemed to hang from an invisible thread, like the papery wasps’ nests outside my study window.”

*I couldn’t confirm this, and it may refer to number of copies in print, not titles. There are about 225,000 Amish in the U.S. and more than 170,000 books printed.

Best line: No. 1: Janzen on her mother: “This was a woman who had once departed for Hawaii with a frozen fryer in her suitcase, on the theory that the chicken would be thawed by the time her flight landed in Honolulu.” No. 2: The last lines of the review above.

Worst lines: No. 1: “—she patted her heinie significantly.” No. 2: “Al’s enrollment at St. Veronica’s had not been a shoe-in, but Phil and Hannah had decided that Christian guilt was better than bad math.” No. 3: “ With a pattern of dodgy behavior already established, I was a shoe-in for further scrutiny.” No. 4: “Aaron sang close harmonies in a madrigal group, his rich-timbered baritone blending like butter.” No: 5: “Keep your pervy pecker in your pants, mister. Mennonite gals do not put out, no matter how alluring we are in our bonnets and aprons.” No. 6: “I am woman, hear me pee!” No. 7: “Fresh out of grad school, I agreed to be the faculty adviser to a sorority whose members were commonly referred to as ‘the Campus Hotties’ or ‘the Ones in Deep Doo-Doo for Trashing Four Hotel Rooms Again.”

Furthermore: The Wall Street Journal article “They’re No Bodice-rippers, but Amish Romances Are Hot” has more on the boomlet in books about the Amish. Third Way Café has an answer to: “What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?”.

Read an excerpt from Mennonite in a Little Black Dress or find the publisher’s reading group guide.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, where she will be tweeting this week about topics that will include the National Book Awards to be announced Nov. 18. Comments about those prizes will also be posted on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 10, 2009

‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ — A Review of Rhoda Janzen’s Memoir Coming Soon

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:37 pm
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In middle age, Rhoda Janzen reconnected with the faith of her childhood after facing setbacks that included a hysterectomy and the news that her husband was leaving her for a man he met on Gay.com. Janzen describes the experience in Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home, which One-Minute Book Reviews will review soon. In the meantime, you’ll find an excerpt and more on the site for its publisher.  On Nov. 8 I put up a couple of tweets on Twitter (www.twitter.com/janiceharayda) about the use of “shoe-in” for “shoo-in” and “timber” for “timbre” by Janzen, who teaches English at Hope College.

November 9, 2009

Mitch Albom Gets Religion – A Review of ‘Have a Little Faith’


The author of
Tuesdays with Morrie says he has learned that he is “neither smarter nor better” than other people

Have a Little Faith: A True Story. By Mitch Albom. Hyperion, 254 pp., $23.99.

By Janice Harayda

More than two decades ago, the Unitarian minister Robert Fulghum achieved bestsellerdom with All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a small book that offered twee advice such as, “Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you” and “Flush.” For Mitch Albom the font of wisdom appears to have materialized in what is euphemistically called “midlife.”

In his bestselling Tuesdays With Morrie and the new Have a Little Faith, Albom assumes the posture of an innocent who became a man of the world without having learned the basic lessons that Fulghum seems to have picked up between games of dodgeball. He is not, it appears, a quick study.

Albom said in Tuesdays With Morrie that during his talks with a dying former professor, he learned that “love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.” He writes in his new book that he has learned fresh lessons — about what he calls “faith” — from Albert Lewis, the New Jersey rabbi who presided over his bar mitzvah in 1971, and a pastor to the homeless in Detroit. Lewis told Albom that whenever he looked at a picture of the family he loves, he thought, “This is your immortality.” But if love keeps you alive – at least in others’ hearts – isn’t that what Albom learned from Morrie Schwartz?

No discovery seems too basic for Albom not to cast as a revelation as he and Lewis talk about cosmic and earthly questions: What makes people happy? Why does it mean to be good? How can you cope with tragedy? Albom is amazed when Lewis asks a Hindu health aide about her belief in reincarnation. “How can you – a cleric – be so open-minded?” he asks, as though shocked that the rabbi isn’t a bigot. The news that his old synagogue has extensive files on its history seems to fill him with wonder. “I didn’t know there were files,” he tells the woman who informed him of it. Imagine: A synagogue that keeps good records!

Under the rubric of “faith” Albom writes about religion in such a generalized feel-good way that you’re not sure how his view differs from the God-is-love school of theology or even New Age psychobabble. You wonder if he knows. Albom says he wrote Have a Little Faith “in the hope that all faiths can find something universal in the story,” and it’s full of pseudoprofundities such as, “we all want the same things: comfort, love, and a peaceful heart.” But the view of “immortality” that he seems to advocate – that you find your afterlife in the memories of others – is far more Jewish than Christian (not to mention, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim). Certainly few Christians would disagree that people “live on” in others’ minds. But Christian theology holds that things like “comfort, love and a peaceful heart” are not the ultimate aim. They are the byproducts of a larger goal, which is salvation through Christ.

Albom tries to keep the book from tilting toward his religion by interweaving chapters about his old rabbi with sections on Henry Covington, an ex-drug dealer who began a ministry to the homeless after a spiritual plea bargain: One night when he thought killers were trailing him, he decided that if he survived, he would devote his life to Jesus. But in these sections Albom keeps his distance from theology and focuses on matters such as whether the pastor’s church can keep the lights on, so the spiritual heart of the story lies in Lewis, who set the book in motion by asking his former congregant to give his eulogy.

Like Albom’s recent novel For One More Day, his new book is written at third-grade reading level, according to readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word.* Have a Little Faith is more interesting than that homespun parable in because Lewis is a bit of card – he kept a mock parking sign in his office that said, YOU TAKA MY SPACE / I BREAKA YOUR FACE — and the book has excerpts from his sermons. It also includes the fine eulogy Albom eventually gave for Lewis that may inspire you if you have to give a similar talk. Otherwise, you are well-advised keep in mind something Albom says he learned while writing this book: He is “neither smarter nor better” than others, just luckier.

Best line: The first line of the Twenty-third Psalm, quoted by Lewis in a sermon: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Worst line: No. 1: “January arrived and the calendar changed. It was 2008. Before the year was done, there would be a new U.S. President, an economic earthquake, a sinkhole of confidence, and tens of millions unemployed or without homes. Storm clouds were gathering.” Yes, when January arrives, the calendar usually does change. No. 2: “What do you do when you lose a loved one too quickly? When you have no time to prepare before, suddenly, that soul is gone?
“Ironically, the man who could best answer that question was sitting in front of me.” This is a misuse of “ironically.” Nothing “ironic” is happening here.

About the reading level of this book: To figure the reading level of Have a Little Faith, I entered into a computer the full text of pages 24–25, 124–125, 224–225 and pages 164–165, then ran the spell-checker on Microsoft Word, which shows you the Flesch-Kincaid reading level at the bottom of the stats window. The reading levels for the pages averaged Grade 3. 7 and ranged from a low of Grade 2.8 to a high of Grade 6.5. The passages entered include only words written by Albom, none by Lewis. A comparison of Albom’s level and that of other authors appears here.

Published: September 2009

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 17, 2008

Tuesdays With More Jewelry – The 13 Women You Meet in ‘The Necklace’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:34 am
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“I told Wayne, ‘I’ll make a deal with you. If you vote for Bush I’ll give you sexual favors.’ I live with a Democrat. What else could I do?’ Men are distracted by their little brain, as we call it.”
– Nancy Huff, who chipped in with 12 other women buy a $15,000 diamond tennis necklace, on her husband, Wayne

The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis. Ballantine, 240 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Think of this book as Tuesdays With More Jewelry. Or For One More Day With a $15,000 Necklace. Or The 13 Women You Meet in Midlife If You’re Planning to Live to Be 100+.

Mitch Albom doesn’t have a new book out this year, but if you’re having withdrawal symptoms, The Necklace offers an antidote in the form of a variation on the Tuesdays With Morrie formula: Take two or more middle-aged or older people, have them meet regularly, and write about the self-evident truths they say “learned” from their get-togethers.

In this case 13 California women, all in their 50s or early 60s, chipped in to buy a $15,000 diamond tennis necklace and named it Jewelia. Then they took turns keeping it for a month at a time, sometimes lending it to others or using it as a draw for fund-raisers, and wrote a book about their experiences.

The Necklace brims with praise for the benefits of sharing a necklace that has 118 diamonds. One borrower said, “I’d been depressed because I’m overweight, but the necklace made me feel happy.” This is not a practical solution to America’s obesity epidemic.

Even so, The Necklace has more going for it than much of Albom’s fare, chiefly because the sex is better. The owners of the necklace had an understanding: “Each woman, when it’s her time with the necklace, has to make love wearing only the diamonds.” Thus we learn that Nancy Huff gave her husband “sexual favors” in return for a vote for George Bush. (“I live with a Democrat. What else could I do?”) Dale Muegenburg surprised her husband by dressing in schoolgirl porn — “a plaid, pleated miniskirt, a sexy white blouse, and kneesocks” — when they stayed in a dorm at his college reunion.

As proof of what they learned from their purchase, the women offer banalities — including talk about about “second chances” and “the road less traveled” — that hardly seem worth an investment of more than $1,000 apiece. But the bromides don’t count the book, movie and other deals that flowed in after the media heard about their project. And although none of the women acknowledges it, each owner of The Necklace learned something about her death if not about her life: Each woman now knows what the first line of her obituary will be.

Best line: “Men are distracted by their little brain, as we call it.”

Worst line: “Patti didn’t feel the same ecstasy with regard to the group necklace. ‘Diamonds are too common for me.’”

Reading group guide: A reading group guide to The Necklace was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on Nov. 17, 2008, in the post that directly preceded this review.

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Wish I’d written that: Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times: “The group unquestionably helps others by using the necklace to raise money for charities and by appreciating the intangible, self-actualizing gifts that can’t be had in jewelry stores.

“But real honesty and insight are antithetical to this book’s experiment. It wants to simultaneously exploit and renounce the same craving. So the diamonds are cannily manipulated throughout The Necklace to both titillate and congratulate readers and to reinforce what they already know.” stores.
www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/05book.html?pagewanted=print

Editor: Susan Mercandetti

Published: September 2008

Read an excerpt at www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345500717

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Necklace’ by the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives
By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

A few years ago, thirteen California women agreed to pay $15,000 for a diamond necklace and take turns keeping it for a month at a time. They explain why they did it – and what they got out of it – their collective memoir, The Necklace, a New York Times bestseller.

Questions for Readers

1 The Necklace has the subtitle Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. Did the authors of this book convince you that their lives really had been “transformed”? Why or why not?

2 The authors began to attract media attention when Maggie Hood (“the adventurer”) told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles that she would be skydiving in a diamond necklace — an event that seems to have occurred not long after the purchase. [Page 79] This development makes it harder to tell whether the women’s lives were changed by the necklace or by becoming celebrities. What do you think accounted for any transformations that occurred: the diamonds or the publicity (including the resulting book and movie deals)? Would the necklace have had the same effect without the media attention?

3 Some of the women in The Necklace make pointed comments on how Americans see middle-aged women. Roz McGrath (“the feminist”) says, “I hate it when people call me young lady.” [Page 190] Do you think The Necklace makes a statement about women “of a certain age”? What is it?

4 Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times: “Because Ms. Jarvis writes in the simple, virtual Young Adult format of self-help, The Necklace gives each woman a stereotypical handle: ‘The Loner,’ ‘The Traditionalist,’ ‘The Leader,’ ‘The Visionary’ and so on. (‘The Feminist’ is the group’s only brunette.) It shapes each thumbnail character sketch to fit these stereotypes.” Do you agree that the book stereotypes the owners of the diamonds? Or do you think the handles were just chapter titles?
www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/05book.html?pagewanted=print

5 Maslin also wrote that “real honesty and insight are antithetical to this book’s experiment. It wants to simultaneously exploit and renounce the same craving [for diamonds]. So the diamonds are cannily manipulated throughout The Necklace to both titillate and congratulate readers and to reinforce what they already know.” Do you agree that the authors of the book want to have it both ways?
www.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/books/05book.html?pagewanted=print

6 The Necklace was written before the current financial crisis. In theory, this shouldn’t matter, because good books are timeless – but sometimes it does. How did the economic turmoil affect your view of the book?

7 Each of the 13 owners of the necklace gets similar amount of space in this book. This approach differs from that of most novels and many nonfiction books, which give characters space based on their importance to the “plot.” How well did it work? Would you have liked to hear more about some women and less about others?

8 At one point, a group of men see the diamonds and debate what they could share: “a boat, an RV, a Porsche?” [Page 128] Would a similar experiment have worked with men? Why or why not?

9 Were you surprised by how lonely some of the authors sounded – at least before they bought the necklace – even though they have full lives? For example, Mary O’Connor (“the rock ’n’ roller”) says: “Having these women in my life fills a tremendous void.” [Page 183] Do you think that loneliness is unique to women or to women of a certain age? Or does it affect men?
10 What did you think of Jonell McLain’s “guideline”: “Each woman, when it’s her time with the necklace, has to make love wearing only the diamonds.” [Page 62] Do you think she was serious? How well would this have worked in your circle of friends?

Vital Statistics:
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives. By the Women of Jewelia and Cheryl Jarvis. Ballantine, 240 pp., $24. Published: September 2008

Read an excerpt and more at www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345500717

A review of The Necklace appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Nov. 17, 2008, in the post immediately following this guide www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/11/17/.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com/twitter

September 23, 2008

New in Paperback — Katha Pollitt’s ‘Learning to Drive’

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Nonfiction,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:37 am
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Katha Pollitt regrets that there are no good words to describe her time of life. “‘Older’ raises the question of ‘older than whom?’,” she writes in Learning to Drive (Random House, 224 pp., $14). “Midlife is the upbeat new euphemism – there you are, in the thick of it! – but a 55-year-old person is in the middle of his life only if he’s going to live to 110. ‘Middle-aged’ sounds tired and plodding, almost as bad as ‘aging’ – and ‘aging’ is sad and pitiful, an insult even though it’s actually universally applicable. A 50-year-old is aging at the same rate as a baby or a tree or a bottle of wine, exactly one second per second.”

As that observation suggests, Learning to Drive in some ways resembles Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. But there’s more bite and depth to this collection of elegant and often witty essays by Pollitt kathapollitt.blogspot.com, whose topics include motherhood, learning to drive, and her discovery that she was living with a man who might have been allowed to donate his zipper to a hall of fame for philanderers. And the book has just come out in a paperback edition with a sparkling new cover that should make it easier to find at bookstores www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 17, 2008

‘Dave Barry Turns 50′ — A Great 50th Birthday Gift (and There’s a ‘Dave Barry Turns 40,’ Too)

Filed under: Humor,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:31 am
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Over at Amazon.com, the reviewers are duking it out over whether Dave Barry Turns 50 is or isn’t the funniest book by the retired Pulitzer Prize–winning humor columnist. My friends, it doesn’t matter. Barry may have written funnier books, including Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits. But Dave Barry Turns 50 is still a great 50th birthday gift for a reader (and one I’ve given more than once), possibly in its large-print edition. This collection of witty observations on reaching the mid-century mark is – of course — the sequel to Dave Barry Turns 40. You can find Dave Barry Turns 50 in the humor section at some bookstores but may have to order it from an online bookseller.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 26, 2007

A Pittsburgh Lawyer Tries to Play Through His ‘Midlife Crisis’ in Philip Beard’s Golf Novel, ‘Lost in the Garden’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Maybe the golfer in bunny ears on the cover should have been the tip-off

Title: Lost in the Garden: A Novel (Plume, 240 pp, $14, paperback), by Philip Beard.

What it is: A comic novel about a 45-year-old lawyer who, after his wife kicks him out of their home in suburban Pittsburgh, tries to cope with what he calls his “midlife crisis” by playing golf.

How much I read: The prologue, the first chapter and some later passages, about 30 pages.

Why I stopped reading: Beard starts pushing his luck with his first line: “If you choose books the way I do, you still have a chance to save yourself a few bucks.” He adds: “This is not a book that is meant to be bought; it’s only a book that needed to be written.” This sort of self-consciously ironic pose makes a critic say very quickly, “Okay, if it’s not meant to be bought, I won’t tell people to buy it.” Especially when the cliché “midlife crisis” also appears in the first few pages. A Publishers Weekly reviewer who finished the book said, “After a promising start, Beard doesn’t provide enough plot to keep the reader from losing patience with Beard’s self-absorbed mid-lifer and his games (sporting and otherwise).” That may be true, but comic novels don’t need a lot of plot if they’re funny enough to make you want to keep reading, regardless.

Best line in what I read: A quote from the novelist Peter De Vries: “Confession is good for the soul only in the sense that a tweed coat is good for dandruff – it is a palliative rather than a remedy.”

Worst line in what I read: Beard writes of the members of a golf club: “The women (who only just attained full membership status in 1998, following a battle that rivaled the one for women’s suffrage in both acrimony and expense) …” The labored humor of the line is typical of what I read.

Consider reading instead: Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good, a much funnier treatment of the crisis that occurs in the life of a father of two when his wife says he wants a divorce (“Nick Hornby Looks at a Marriage in Trouble in His Comic Novel How to Be Good“) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/.

Published: May 2007 (Plume paperback), May 2006 (Viking hardcover) http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780452288423,00.html

Caveat lector: On the book cover shown here, the man is wearing yellow bunny ears. These may not show up on your computer screen.

Furthermore: Beard also wrote the novel Dear Zoe, which he self-published, then sold to Viking. He has a great story on his site about the experience www.philipbeard.net/backstory.html. He is a writer and lawyer in Pittsburgh.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 9, 2007

Elizabeth Buchan’s ‘Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman,’ a Novel That Helped to Launch a Trend

A spurned wife survives without throwing Key Lime pies

Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. By Elizabeth Buchan. Penguin, 341 pp., $14, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Women of a certain age have come of age in print. Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck put them on the bestseller list. And other recent books about women well past 40 have had literary or commercial success or both, including Virginia Ironside’s novel No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club and Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive.

But the trend may have started a few years ago with the bestsellerdom of the British novelist Elizabeth Buchan’s Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. The title might lead you to expect a Heartburn with bifocals, a merciless satire intended to settle a few scores inspired by real life. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman is instead a light, amusing novel about a 47-year-old newspaper editor in London, Rose Lloyd, whose husband leaves her for her younger deputy, Minty.

No hurler of Key Lime pies, Buchan’s heroine takes only the gentlest revenge on her betrayers, free of the over-the-top scheming found in novels such as The Red Hat Club and The First Wives Club. Before her marriage, Rose had an affair with a brilliant travel writer. And her story hinges on whether you can rekindle a bonfire that blazed years earlier (and holds more surprises than you might expect from that familiar set-up).

In Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, Buchan falls somewhere between Ireland’s Maeve Binchy and England’s Joanna Trollope in the ratio of salt to sugar in her fiction. She takes more risks than Binchy but fewer than Trollope. And if her novel has fairy-tale elements, it also has shrewd and mature observations on marriage. Rose explains her husband’s departure by saying: “We had been at that stage of taking each other for granted yet we had not yet reached the stage when we were strong enough that it was no longer dangerous.”

Recommendation? A more intelligent novel — and, for that reason, a much better choice for book clubs looking for light, entertaining reading — than, say, Holly Peterson’s The Manny or Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’s Dedication.

Published: December 2003

Reading group guide: At www.elizabethbuchan.com

Furthermore: This review appeared in different form in the St. Petersburg Times. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman was made into a 2004 movie starring Christine Lahti as Rose. Search the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com for the title for more information about it.

One-Minute Book Reviews ranks seventh in the world on the Google Directory of “Top Arts and Literature” blogs www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/ .

(c) 2007 All rights reserved. Janice Harayda.

www.janiceharayda.com

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