What does it mean to age? To be old? Particularly, what does it mean to confront old age as a woman? How have the peculiarities and challenges faced by women changed (if at all) over time?
The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age In Fiction by Dr. Ruth O. Saxton seeks to answer these questions and rectify the, somehow, universally held ideas about women, and more specifically older women. Namely that women are defined by their romantic relationships; that they inherently seek to be wives, mothers, and caregivers; and that their artistic or personal passions are second to their roles as women.
Saxton takes a look at thirty different novels and short stories with older women as the central characters to analyze how the writers of these works handle aging and end of life issues. In each section, Sexton provides an in-depth analysis of a story, parsing out the characters’ motives, how their lives differ (or not) from the given stereotypes about aging women, and how the stories and characters fit into the larger, collective narrative of women as we know it.
An essential piece of non-fiction, The Book of Old Ladies draws attention not only to the works highlighted, but to the overarching issue of our society’s provincial view of women in old age. Saxton brings to life characters who are so far from the narrow-minded perception of the old bag, the lonely widower, and the crazy old lady to name a few. Further, Saxton creates a sense of urgency to both read the fiction she features and to champion the older women of our generation who are living these fictions daily.
Even if you haven’t read the books and stories Saxton focuses on, each chapter and section is still captivating and, by the end, almost makes you feel as if you have read the book or story discussed. That being said, reading the analyses of the works I had read was by far the more enjoyable reading experience of the book. If anything, Saxton creates a reading list for every reader!
Eye opening, heartbreaking, and thoroughly thought-provoking, The Book of Old Ladies by Ruth O. Saxton comes highly recommended to all readers no matter their age, gender, or beliefs.
Slated for release from She Writes Press in September 2020, you can preorder a copy of The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age In Fiction at your local independent bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.