Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: The Pull of the Moon

Lately I have been checking my blog statistics and reviewing the kinds of google entries that lead to my blog. While many of them are searching for reviews of books, I have been surprised by the number of women who have stumbled upon my menopausal mania post. Apparently, there are a large number of women out there who are in the throes of these disconcerting emotional and hormonal changes. They seem to just want to know that someone else is out there experiencing similar difficulties with hating their lives, feeling alienated from their husbands and generally losing it over things that never used to bother them. I know I have found great comfort in knowing that other women are encouraged by my simple words about my experience with menopause.

Elizabeth Berg's book, The Pull of the Moon, with it's obvious reference to a woman's monthly cycle, presents a character who is definitely reeling from the unsettling emotions and re-assessment of life that comes with menopause. Nan feels like she is drowning in the shallows of her present, empty life. She reflects back on a time when she felt she knew exactly where she was headed. With her daughter grown and her life droning on in an endless pace of nothingness, Nan takes a remarkable step and ... runs away from home.

I could fully relate to the main character in this book. Indeed, I ran away from home at a time when I felt like I was drowning a few years back. After a few days away, I was able to return and refocus on the demands of my life. Nan, however, takes her time, following no particular course, but relishing the opportunities afforded her in this freedom of escape. She is finally able to reflect upon her life and attempt to make some sense of where she is. She stops to talk with other women and learn how they are managing.

Her words, when writing about a young, exhausted mother she encountered, clearly resonated with me:

"I think we are most of us ready to explode, especially when our children are small and we are so weary with the demands for love and attention and the kind of service that makes you feel you should be wearing a uniform with 'Mommy' embroidered over the left breast, over the heart.... If a stranger had come up to me and said, 'Do you want to talk about it? I have time to listen,' I think I might have burst into tears at the relief of it. It wasn't that I was really unhappy. It was the constancy of my load and the awesome importance of it; and it was my isolation. I made no friends out of the few people I saw in the park - frazzled mothers too busy for real conversation..."

At one point, Nan goes into a grocery store, determined to buy all the ingredients to make a meal she really wants. Sadly, she realizes that everything she picks up is connected to another person's wants. She tells her husband that he wouldn't have had this problem, of not even knowing what it was she wanted to eat. She says,

"There would be nothing tangled up inside you, no guilt and despair trying to work their way into the lettuce and baguette and breast of chicken. It is a case of feeling that you deserve things, that they are there for you; and it is something women seem to struggle with, almost without exception, and I don't know why."

This rang so true for me. It seems we women focus our lives and efforts so thoroughly on meeting the needs of others, that we often forget what needs we ourselves have and, even worse, forget how to meet those needs. We lose touch with who we are and where we want to go.

Although this book wasn't really very plot-driven, (like Nan, it ambles) it does provide solidarity for women who are experiencing these perplexing new questions about life and what they want from it. I could have done without some of the sexual exploit discussions, but apart from that, I enjoyed the book. I'm guessing that other women confronting menopause would also find comfort in this tale of a woman in search of herself.


Amy Sorensen said...

This was my first Elizabeth Berg novel and then I read everything else she wrote! She's definitely one of my favorites. I had forgotten that bit about the grocery shopping, but it reminds me of something. A friend at work a little while ago asked me what my favorite pizza is. It is sliced tomatoes, canadian bacon, and pineapple. But since no one but me likes those toppings, I literally NEVER get it. I settle for the combo or the meat lovers because it makes everyone else happy. In general this is OK, but, you know, seriously! how come *I* am the one to sacrifice my favorite pizza for the last twenty years? Who is sacrificing their pizza toppings to keep me happy? NO ONE.

Why do we do it? Why especially as women do we do it? I don't know. I do know that I hate how many things I have let go of, things about myself that were valuable and had meaning, all to the alter of "keeping the peace." And, you know what it really does? It allows the non-keep-the-peace people in our lives to continue not keeping the peace. It enables them to think that their opinions are the most important.

Gah!Guess I feel strongly about this... Thanks for "listening"!

Wendy said...

Amy - This was exactly the nerve it struck in me. How often we women give up parts of ourselves only to discover an emptiness later when we realize that we have compromised our values and interests time and again to that altar you mentioned. Even if it keeps the peace, it turns our lives inauthentic and one cannot live an inauthentic life forever (or perhaps one can but SHOULD NOT).