Review: Women of a Certain Age

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The essays collected in Women of a Certain Age (Fremantle Press, March, 2018) edited by Jodie Moffat, Marie Scoda and Susan Laura Sullivan, represent a welcome addition to the canon of work about this time in female life. The 15 essays, written by women of varying careers and backgrounds and all Australian, aim to shed light on the lives of women over forty and “the things they may or may not have done to arrest the assumptions and presumptions that age deposits on us, like so much dust.” The collection serves as a series of tiny windows into the lives of women ranging in age from their forties to their seventies. The views are unforgettable.

The collected essays shed light on work in all its forms, immigration to and within Australia as well as motherhood, art, and activism.  The most powerful and well-crafted, though, tell their tales from the vantage point of a particular experience or set of experiences that lead us not only through the writer’s life but the development of her outlook at this ‘certain age.’  In “A Case for Forgiveness,” Goldie Goldbloom begins with the pivotal moment she decided to call her estranged father. We follow the arc of her life and work as an Ivy League professor, a great-grandmother fluent in four languages, an acclaimed novelist, a gardener and keeper of chickens as we discover her father’s parallel story and its impact on the writer. The essay is riveting, touching, and painful all at once as Goldbloom revisits various moments from the past forty years since she last spoke with him and what it means to be in contact again.

Similarly, Jeanine Leane in “Black Boxes” tells a compelling and complicated tale of life as an indigenous woman. She beautifully illustrates the assumptions she encounters and the box she is meant to occupy as a result. Finishing her PhD at fifty, Leane did not meet the expectations people had about her history, her people, or even her self.  Her frustration is palpable, but so is her joy in her work and the understanding of her evolution as a scholar, teacher, and woman within and without that box.

Susan Laura Sullivan also finds that she does not fit the box she is meant to occupy. A single woman living and working predominantly outside Australia, Sullivan’s “Seeking Singular Single Older Women” offers parallel reflections on a life lived in cultures that emphasize traditional roles for women, but also on her own family’s and culture’s assumptions about women and meaningful life.

Women of a Certain Age is, like its writers, frank, refreshing and thought-provoking. Also, like its authors, it breaks new ground in its genre. While other books such as Leap! What Will We Do With the Rest of Our Lives? by Sarah Davidson, and more recently, A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon offer compelling interviews and biographies, Women of a Certain Age hands the microphone to the women themselves. By the end, their voices blow away all of that assumed and presumed dust, so we can more clearly see the people beneath.

Women of a Certain Age
Edited by Jodie Moffat, Maria Scoda, and Susan Laura Sullivan
March, 2018
Fremantle Press

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