Book review: The Bitch Is Back

Great title, right?

Perfect for on A Day Without a Woman, when women around the country are marching, striking, and celebrating women’s work and accomplishments (by showing what happens if we step away, Lysistrata-style).

I’m home with a sick kid today, so I’m celebrating women by wearing red (and my 1 Billion Rising t-shirt) and writing about women’s writing. Unpaid labor? Maybe so. But a joy to create and support women creators.

Sequel to The Bitch in the House, which I haven’t read yet, this collection of personal essays is the literary equivalent to eavesdropping on 26 juicy conversations, getting the dirt (albeit well-composed and edited) on a variety of women in midlife:

  • The university president who hobbles in heels for six months after breaking her foot but before seeing a doctor, scared to admit she’s getting older
  • A trans woman who comes out after 12 years of “supposedly heterosexual marriage”–and whose wife chooses to stay after her transition
  • Two different stories from the “other women” who blew up their lives for a lover…and the sometimes messy, sometimes beautiful aftermath
  • A Muslim woman, married at 14, who earned a Ph.D. while raising 8 kids and her thoughts on leaning in…and out

A diverse selection of writers, yet with several common threads: Most are professional authors, editors, or professors, not surprising for a memoir collection. A large contingent are able to jet off to Paris and Hawaii, own second homes, and write $12,000 checks. This lends an odd homogeneous quality to the voices that I can’t relate to, though I connect to the emotional core of their stories.

One essay, however, sticks out. “Dirty Work” is the story of a woman who owns a housecleaning company “as told to” the editor. Her story of surviving abuse and homelessness is authentic and important, yet the essay’s structural differences, as well as the narrator’s class and age, ostracize her story as if it were something outside the norm. I wish there had been a wider socioeconomic range in this collection to represent a truer range of experiences.

Overall, I was engaged and engrossed in these well-written stories from women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. In our youth-obsessed culture, it’s refreshing to know what midlife women think about where they’ve been and where they’re going.

I recommend this book for any woman with a story to tell. C’mon, you know you do.

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