Oh snap out of it: Why midlife crises can be so boring

books

slipperyyearYou know the saying that happy families are all alike? I’m thinking there should be an addendum: Midlife crisis stories are inherently boring. Vague unease and ennui do not make for compelling drama.

Latest case in point: “The Slippery Year,” by Melanie Gideon. I so wanted to like the book, which got a write-up in today’s NYT in advance of its arrival next week, that I plowed my way through it waiting for the revelation or wisdom that would make reading it seem worthwhile. Sadly, it never came.

Gideon, no doubt a nice person if you know her, makes much too much ado about mundane domestic details and disappointments. Her husband buys a big motor home; she hates it. Her son needs a new Halloween costume; she’s a bad mother for talking him into trick-or-treating as wrongly incarcerated fallen angel. The dog dies. She and her husband can’t find a new bed they can both sleep upon. And so on.

Will this marriage last? Can she shake out of her funk? Do we really care? Gideon certainly isn’t interesting or insightful enough to make me care about her particular blues.

Writer’s divorce stings LAT media critic

journalism, L.A. Times, mags

Some gall of Sandra Tsing Loh to turn her back on marriage! All those zany tales about parenting and she has the nerve to question the notion of wedded bliss? Why, her Atlantic story doesn’t even serve up juicy details about her affair! 

LAT media columnist James Rainey takes her defection VERY personally, writing in Wednesday’s paper that Loh’s case against nuptials left him dismayed and “oddly defensive on behalf of her husband.” He claims that her essay goes too far and doesn’t reveal enough, calling it “thoroughly provocative and strangely bloodless.” His issue: that she uses her experiences and that of a few friends to make a sweeping case against marriage without outlining the specifics of her marital breakdown.

Rainey really wants it both ways. He questions whether “the personal necessarily must become political,” yet clamors for more details so that — what? — he can better assess her argument? Make sense of  her marital breakdown?  He seems appalled Loh would mine her private life for public consumption, but that’s what she does. It’s just that usually she does so for comic effect.

I actually found her Atlantic essay bracing. Her radio bits and prose have always seemed self-satisfied; she’s very intent on conveying how wacky and boho her life is.  “Mother on Fire,” as her last book is prophetically titled, chronicles one comic adventure after another as she tries to get her children into good schools, often circumventing her kind, but relaxed, musician husband. Oh, and she also writes about her chronic insomnia, another tell-tale sign of her unhappiness in retrospect, but as per usual she makes a joke of it. 

The jokes are gone in the Atlantic essay. Sure she serves up telling, if disguised, details about her pals in “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” but the self-satisfied tone is absent. Loh honestly seems to be grappling with the issue of modern-day marriage in the wake of her own failed 20-year partnership, melding  her personal views with readings from marriage books. I don’t share her bleak conclusion, but I don’t begrudge her attempt to make sense of it all.

Then again, my manhood isn’t being called into the question, so maybe it’s easier for me to be sanguine about her sour take. Rainey admits he “couldn’t help but feel the pain the latest production must have provoked” for Loh’s long-suffering mate. “How many times can you be labeled a ‘great artist and loving father’ and a ‘worthy man’ before you feel like an emasculated chump?” He further bristles at the way she depicts friends’ mates as “domesticated sexless drones.”

Strangely, he suggests that her marriage would have been better off if she had only moved to South Pasadena, as she once wished. “The little city where I live might not be perfect, but it seems to me that most of the couples we know enjoy much better than the joyless ‘companionate marriages’ Loh dreads,” he writes. Now, I’ve lived in South Pas, and I like it there, but the city has no greater guarantee of happy marriage than other Los Angeles suburbs. Suggesting it, Rainey’s guilty of the same sort of sweeping generalization he criticizes Loh for making.