Chick lit for midlife

Chick lit, for those who aren’t in the know, has female protagonists who are usually career-driven, like to shop and are involved in some sort of romantic drama.

Menopause in Manhattan 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Menopause in Manhattan 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a cliché because people do judge books by their covers – and their titles. Menopause in Manhattan is a title that made me cringe, and to be honest, I would not pick up the book if I saw it in a store, though that may be because I am about half the age of its intended audience. The title is especially unfortunate because not only does the book barely mention menopause, it is a perfectly respectable work of chick lit.
Chick lit, for those who aren’t in the know, are books like Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, which have female protagonists who are usually career-driven, like to shop and are involved in some sort of romantic drama.
Author Anne Kleinberg, who started out at City Lights, the precursor to Metro, sticks to the genre’s usual elements, including a sassy gay best friend, a fabulous wardrobe with great shoes and jewelry, and a job in publishing that is unrealistically glamorous and wellpaying.
Kleinberg makes some interesting adjustments to the genre’s clichés because of her book’s twist – the characters are middle-aged.
Like most chick lit novels, Menopause in Manhattan gives extra attention to brand names, trading in McQueen and Lanvin for the somewhat more staid styles of Donna Karan and Caroline Herrera; and an obsession with interior design replaces a love of shoes and purses. The Internet is practically nonexistent for protagonist Elie Sands, who seems baffled by text messaging.
Elie’s 50th birthday party takes place in the book’s first chapter, and although Elie is optimistic about middle age, her world slowly begins to crumble around her.
The story starts off slowly and somewhat lacks in conflict at first, but picks up the pace about halfway through, when Elie finally realizes what readers see from the beginning – that her husband, Phillip, is a cad, and her job as executive editor of a major interior design magazine is not as secure as it seems. At that point, she undergoes a transformation on the scale of Eat, Pray, Love (the ultimate chick-lit memoir).
The plot is a bit predictable; but that shouldn’t bother fans of the genre, who would be disappointed if Elie didn’t live happily ever after. However, the minor characters’ plotlines leave quite a few loose threads when the book ends, which is especially unfortunate since, as often happens in chick lit and flicks, the protagonist’s friends are funnier and more interesting than the main character herself.
Elie is a bit bland, and frustratingly blind to what is happening around her, but her friend Syd is the kind of hilarious, brutally honest pal any woman would be lucky to have.
Elie’s other best friend, Michael Delmonico, is a walking gay stereotype – he is effeminate, and loves fashion and shopping – but he still manages to bring something fresh to the story, with an especially intriguing plotline.
Menopause in Manhattan is perfect for a woman who loves novels and movies about love and shopping, but doesn’t want twenty-somethings to have all the fun.
You can almost imagine Nancy Myers – Hollywood’s go-to director for older-woman chick flicks with a major emphasis on interior design – casting Meg Ryan (yes, she’s already 50) in the lead role. The movie theater would certainly be full of women eating popcorn while wishing they could be nearly as fabulous as Elie Sands.