The Readers' Advisory Interest Group
This genre, christened "hen-lit" or "matron-lit" or sometimes even "Hag-lit" focuses on the 40-60 year-old set, "the coming of middle age," group. Many are quick reads with glitzy hot-pink covers. They generally focus on one woman or a group of female friends.
Nancy Thayer, a writer of serious fiction since 1978, wrote The Hot Flash Club because she hadn’t read any novels that dealt frankly with menopause.
More than 39 million baby boom women are between the ages of 42 and 60. And thanks to pop culture phenomena like the Red Hat Society, the riotous Ya-Ya Sisterhood and menopause, older women are no longer relegated to the backstage! "This period of time is a much richer and more exciting time than it was for, say, my mother," said Nancy Thayer, 62. "I feel like what these books are saying is we're not retiring to a rocking chair…We’re very much taking advantage of this next passage of life."
Examples of the genre are North Carolina resident Joan Medlicott’s Ladies of Covington novels beginning with The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love about three 60 something friends who move south to set up housekeeping in a rundown North Carolina farmhouse. There is also Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows about eight 40 or older women who meet each week. When one of the gang faces a personal crisis, the whole group sets out on foot in the middle of the night on a pilgrimage of personal discovery. There are the Miss Julia books by another tar heel author Ann B. Ross beginning with Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind about a conventional small town widow who ends up raising her husband’s young illegitimate son and the boy’s feckless mother as well. Other titles include: Good Grief by Lolly Winston; and The Not-So-Perfect Man by Valerie Frankel.
These books feature women facing a wide variety of life stages, from that first baby at 45 to the first date after divorce or widowhood; from that first day of college accompanied by your freshman daughter to dealing with three generations living in the same house! The books are complex, diverse, and reflect living and loving in today’s complex, diverse world. These stories end happy though not necessarily in a romantic resolution. Romance is a piece of the pie rather than the whole pie!
(Information gathered from various internet resources including articles in the Wilmington Star News and the Columbia Journalist).
Mary Kay Andrews. Little Bitty Lies. 2004.
Mary Bliss is so busy propping up her best friend, Katharine, who's coping with her broken marriage by drinking gin and buying expensive toys, that she fails to notice her own marriage is in trouble. Her once dependable husband, Palmer, cleaned out their accounts and left her with a pile of debt. In desperation, she takes a job as a product-demonstration hostess, but her salary will barely cover the electric bill. She allows Katharine to talk her into a crazy scheme to have Palmer declared dead so she can collect the insurance. That's when she meets sexy fraud investigator Matt Hayslip, and things really start to heat up.
M. C. Beaton. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. 1993.
Agatha Raisin, successful owner of a London PR firm, has retired to a cottage in the Cotswold’s village of Carsely. This is a place with charm dripping off the thatched roofs and where Agatha finds herself bored and friendless. At 53 she is only just now hitting her adolescence. Determined to fit in she enters a local baking contest, with a store bought quiche, which kills one of the judges after it is poisoned. Agatha is an irascible, testy tyrant who is as cranky as the rest of us would like to be and is also very insecure. This is the first book in a series of mysteries that follow Agatha’s search for love and happiness amidst death and mayhem.
Elizabeth Berg. The Art of Mending. 2004.
Laura Bartone, a 50-something quilt artist, anticipates her annual family reunion in Minnesota with a mixture of excitement and wariness. Yet this year's gathering will prove to be much more trying than either she or her siblings imagined. As soon as she arrives, Laura realizes that something is not right with her sister. Forever wrapped up in events of long ago, Caroline is the family's restless black sheep. When Caroline confronts Laura and their brother, Steve, with devastating allegations about their mother, the three have a difficult time reconciling their varying experiences in the same house. But a sudden misfortune will lead them all to face the past, their culpability, and common need for love and forgiveness.
Elizabeth Buchan. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. 2002.
How does it feel to lose your husband of 25 years to your young office-mate, and then learn that you’ve also lost your job to that same woman? This double-whammy is visited upon Rose Lloyd, editor of a London newspaper’s book section. Rose describes for us her shock, depression, and growing defiance in the face of a hurtful and humiliating experience. She remembers her first love affair, the one that led to her meeting her husband and that has always shadowed her marriage, whether she realized it or not. Further losses are in store for Rose, but she clings to her own integrity and determination to live the best life she can. Then things begin looking up... In spite of the title it is rather a contemplative, realistic and warm account of rebirth in middle age. An excellent selection for book clubs.
Paula Marantz Cohen. Jane Austen in Boca. 2002.
Sharp-tongued Flo and sweet-tempered May, best friends in a Jewish retirement community, have love troubles. Helped along by May's conniving daughter-in-law, May's courtship with the equally amiable Norman thrives until Norman suddenly leaves town. Meanwhile, Flo lambastes the rudeness of Norman's friend Stan, a standoffish professor, preferring handsome, suave Mel, a visitor in Boca; but isn't Mel a bit too smooth? Cohen's novel is faithful to Pride and Prejudice not only in its plot and personalities, but also in its satirical tone, hilarious portraits of the ambitious elderly Jewish tourist, the Jewish grandmother scolding her daughter for spoiling her children, or the Jewish patient skeptical of his young doctor's know-how. Jane Austen in Boca is fluffier than Pride and Prejudice, and the satire is sweeter, allowing all the characters to be lovable.
Toby Devens. My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet). 2006.
Gwyn Berke, a 50-something Baltimore gynecologist, is reluctant to re-enter the dating scene after her divorce. Since her husband came out of the closet after 26 years of marriage, she has trouble trusting men. Her friends, the widow Kat and the never-married Fleur, encourage her to date as they search for men themselves. She begins a long-distance affair with a British doctor, but is suspicious when he seems too good to be true. On top of this she also worries about her father, who suffers from Alzheimer's, and she searches without much luck for a funding source to open a clinic for low-income women.
Virginia Ironside. No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year. 2007.
Marie Sharp is about to turn 60, and unlike many of her peers, she has no interest in bungee jumping or joining a bookclub. She looks forward to this new phase of her life, which brings with it the freedom to do old things, such as getting a pension and free prescriptions and, as her neighbor helpfully points out, "tekkin' it eezee, man." Marie, in fact, has such an easygoing attitude toward aging that her friends are constantly inviting her out to dinner and on vacation. She's also excited about babysitting for her grandchild, who has "the air of a very clean goblin" given to "laughing rather inappropriately." And though Marie has declared herself done with romantic entanglements, there's a very kind old friend, recently widowed, who has a crush on her.
Lorna Landvik. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. 2003.
Five Minneapolis housewives form a book discussion group, whose name is decided based on a comment from a disgruntled husband. It's the start of a friendship that spans 30 years. Political milestones are acknowledged and the group's interesting book selections mirror the times or what's happening in their lives. Friendship is the glue that holds the group together as they endure the best and worst of times.
Kris Radish. Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn. 2004.
After not "walking in on" but walking in on and secretly watching her husband in flagrante with his lover, in their bed, Meg begins a journey of self discovery. She falls apart first though and with the help of wonderful friends and a talented counselor, she begins to find parts of herself long buried. Meg finally takes a trip to Mexico to find the dancing dogs - a trip her favorite Aunt Marcia had given her money and directions for after high school--she finds her own apartment, establishes a closer relationship with her daughter, mother, even her soon-to-be ex-husband, and she also connects with her estranged son. Radish writes about women that we want to know, and more importantly, be friends with, even if some of them are frightfully liberated - dancing naked at the edge of dawn.
Jeanne Ray. Step Ball Change. 2002.
This warm and humorous book is sure to appeal to readers who like stories of a strong, older female main character who shares with us the joys and sorrows of family relationships. Sixty-plus Caroline lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, just as she has done for years with her public-defender husband Tom. Caroline has successfully raised four children, while at the same time owning and running a prosperous dance studio. Caroline is a mentor and mother figure to all, including the little girls in her studio. At the same time she maintains her humanity: we warm to her disorganization at home, her guilty wish to have quality time alone with her husband, her attempts to understand her children, and the fact that though she suffers from arthritis she remains young and vulnerable at heart. Chaos breaks loose at Caroline's home when her sister announces she is getting divorced and turns up at her doorstep, her daughter announces her engagement yet can't seem to decide whom she loves, and the foundations of the house are discovered to be in imminent danger of collapse. It is obvious from the beginning that with love and patience all dilemmas will happily be resolved - it is such a pleasure finding out just how!
Nora Roberts. The Villa. 2001.
Set in the Napa Valley, this story is about the merger of two wine-making families and the intrigue, betrayal and murder that ensues. There is a romance, between the upcoming leaders of the two dynasties, Sophia and Tyler, who have been ordered to work together to learn each other's strengths in the business. What makes this a great hen-lit read is the complex and mature secondary romance between Pilar, Sophia's mother, and David, the new COO of the winery.
Barbara Samuel. Madame Mirabou's School of Love. 2006.
"I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up." So begins the story of Nikki, a forty something woman freshly divorced and separated from her daughter, and adjusting to a new life with a smaller income. Each chapter begins with an entry from Nikki's perfume journal and a gorgeous description of the 'scent of the hour.' Samuels takes us through Nikki's life as she moves to a small apartment, befriends other residents (including Madame Mirabou), gets a job waiting tables at the restaurant where she used to eat with her upscale friends, starts to date, and takes the big risk of opening a perfume shop. Hen lit always revolves around a smothered dream, and for Nikki it is perfume. Samuels writes with vivid imagery of the smells that her character creates and the beautiful scenery outside Colorado Springs. A heady story of self-discovery.
Nancy Thayer. The Hot Flash Club. 2004.
Four women: Faye, Shirley, Marilyn and Alice (all in their 50s and 60s) happen to meet at a mutual friend's retirement party. As they make small talk, they realize they share many things in common and decide to split from the party and go to Legal Seafoods in Boston for dinner. Having such a good time there, they decide to continue meeting on a regular basis for dinner, dessert, chocolate and commiserating. The book is witty and fun and is the first in a continuing series of the Hot Flash Club.