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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Middle Age: A Romance

Middle Age: A Romance by Joyce Carol Oates

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

March 27, 2005

I think my main problem with this book can be summarized by saying that I never for an instant believed any of the characters in "Middle Age" were real people. They all seemed like these flat stereotypical exaggerations of people rather than anyone real. For the most part this book to me seemed like a soap opera without the sex scenes and backstabbing that make soap operas campy fun. So I was left with dull characters in largely uninteresting situations.

The thing for me is that for a novel like this to work, where there aren't going to be murders, conspiracies, or any big gimmicks, I have to care enough about the characters to want to read on. That never happened for me because none of the many characters seemed detailed enough for me to understand them. Not understanding them, I never cared what happened to them, although not much of consequence really did.

The whole point of this book seemed to me to lie in the subtitle "A Romance" which is used in an ironic sense because nothing that happens to any of the characters is romantic. Two characters hook up for no good reason, one marries a man because she's fascinated with his adopted daughter, and another seems to fall in love with animals. So there's no "romance" as we usually think of it. Whenever I read a book like this steeped in irony, I always wonder if the author's intention is that I should feel sorry for the pathetic characters or laugh at them for their misfortunes. The whole point to me seemed that everyone in the book was duped into making some compromise or settling for something beneath them. Should I celebrate that or laugh at their situations?

I think this book suffered from too many characters so there just weren't enough pages to make them very interesting or well-drawn. One in particular, Augusta, gets so little time that it appeared to me her sole purpose was to discover the "secret" of Adam Berendt which was so easy to find out that anyone could have if they'd bothered to place a couple phone calls to Minnesota. But most of the characters seemed to be too busy pining or worshipping Adam to be concerned with what secrets he'd been hiding from them.

In the end, I find little to recommend with this book. The characters, their situations, and even the town they live in are never real enough or compelling enough to make this more than an exercise in irony. I know the author has published many other books, so perhaps the irony for me is that I started with this flop.

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