The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life by Marcelle Clements, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life

The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life

by Marcelle Clements
     
 

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"A remarkable new book. . . . Marcelle Clements's The Improvised Woman has that exhilarating Eureka! quality. . . . In its modest, quizzical way, The Improvised Woman is a visionary work." —Mirabella
What is it like being a single woman today? A groundbreaking work of scope, wit, and exceptional empathy, The Improvised Woman answers that complex question,

Overview

"A remarkable new book. . . . Marcelle Clements's The Improvised Woman has that exhilarating Eureka! quality. . . . In its modest, quizzical way, The Improvised Woman is a visionary work." —Mirabella
What is it like being a single woman today? A groundbreaking work of scope, wit, and exceptional empathy, The Improvised Woman answers that complex question, while in the process capturing-and celebrating-the real lives of single American women. Over the past seven years, journalist and essayist Marcelle Clements asked over one hundred women from across the country-young and old, never married, divorced and widowed, childless and single mothers-to talk about being single. How did they get there? Were they sorry or glad? What is the texture of their experience? The heart of this book is the individual voices of the women answering these questions, heard in all their tenacity and humor. "The Improvised Woman doesn't glide over the messy contradictions that accompany being human. . . . Clements gives her interviewees center stage to speak their minds, and appends a series of thoughtful, witty essays."—Newsweek "[Clements] is wise, non-judgmental and patient as she gains the trust of these women, who appear to be as interested in this study as the author is-and as readers, especially other single women, will be."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Editorial Reviews

Carolyn McConnell

My housemates and I are members of the Spinsterhood. When acquiring or getting rid of a man, "The Spinsterhood will always take you back." We have semi-serious discussions about whether you can be both a spinster and a slut. A joke seems the least absurd way to sidle up to the outdated roles offered us, and laughter feels like the beginning of reinvention.

It was with a shock of recognition that I read Marcelle Clements' The Improvised Woman. Clements has interviewed some 100 women, most of whom say publicly what we all know -- that the cultural models held up for women no longer fit us. The statistics Clements lists shouldn't be news, but somehow they are: One quarter of Americans over 18 have never been married; there are 43 million single women in America (two single women for every three married women); most women can expect to be married only half of their adult lives. A single woman, as Clements defines her, is over 18, divorced, widowed or never married, with or without children. But does this include unmarried women living with men or other women? Where would my household of three women fit? Clements presumes that living without a man is the crucial factor, and that that means living alone.

Clements has talked to women of all ages. Perhaps the most inspiring is Clements' oldest subject, 94-year-old Valentine J., who has a younger lover -- aged 84 -- but lives happily alone. Many of the responses to singleness are humorous. One woman who has gotten heavily into Tantric sex reports, "It's very hard to do alone. I can't seem to find my own G-spot." Another quips that the only thing a husband gets you in New York is a dining room. Clements takes as emblematic of singleness the grim lament "There are no men," which may be a fact in New York City (where she found most of her subjects), but hardly characterizes my single experience. None of the women interviewed is a lesbian, and only one woman is identified in passing as living with other women. Everyone else Clements interviewed is apparently living alone or only with children. When Clements defends the joys of a childhood with a nanny or devotes 10 pages to bedsheets, it is clear that her definition of singleness is merely negative, which defeats her intention of making a constituency of single women.

Inspiring and reassuring as the voices of her subjects are, Clements, who repeatedly meanders into psychobabble, fails to take them anywhere. In a chapter titled "Post-Oedipal Females and Brides of the Universe," she writes, "You might say that single women have become reluctant mystics. Unwilling though they may be to relinquish the worldly, many find themselves taking introspection and even meditation, official and unofficial, for granted." This drivel takes the space that ought to be filled by an analysis of where we go from here. While Clements might not agree, living alone is not a lifestyle choice. It's what happens when the old patterns die and we haven't yet created new ones. While, as several women say in the book, it's better to be lonely and independent than lonely in the wrong relationship, surely the question is how to invent new kinds of relationships.

This book does offer clues. In a chapter on the "so-called new family," Clements mentions friends-as-family; one answer to our loneliness may be strengthened relationships between women. For heterosexual women, this would mean reconsidering the relationship between sex and partnership, between romance and raising kids. It will take work for women to invest their relationships with other women with sufficient value to recenter their lives. The young woman in Clements' book who, with palpable self-loathing, calls a circle of single women "pariahs" who "sort of suck on each other" rejects the hope female friendships offer. But when I sit on the porch with my household, as the neighbor kids run through the yard and my housemates and I tease each other, one thing I do not feel is single. --Salon

Lynn Karpen
...a breezy, fast-reading update of what once was viewed as the plight of the unattached female. . . .An ode to independence, this book would have been a blockbuster some 20 or 30 years ago.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
'Unmarried' is an inadequate definition of the single woman, writes Clements in her well-grounded, seven-year study, which is sure to be much quoted. Single women, she concludes, 'are not only improvising their own present, and their own future, they are also role models for... nieces and nephews who can see now that there are alternatives to the Mom and Dad roles.' The 100-plus women Clements (The Dog Is Us) interviews from around the country range in age from their 20s to 90s; they include the divorced, widowed and never married, adoptive and birth mothers and those who have no children.

The women work in a variety of fields and live in reasonable comfort. They are candid in discussing friendships that serve as family; finances; children; jobs; lovers or absence of (in this AIDS era, there seems to be minimal sex); and their homes (according to the U.S. Census Bureau, notes the author, 54% of single women living alone without children own their homes). Clements, a divorced Manhattanite with a 91-year-old mother and an adopted three-year-old son, could have been more directive in some of her interviews and not allowed certain of her subjects to ramble, but she is wise, non-judgmental and patient as she gains the trust of these women, who appear to be as interested in this study as the author is and as readers, especially other single women, will be.

Lynn Karpen
...a breezy, fast-reading update of what once was viewed as the plight of the unattached female. . . .An ode to independence, this book would have been a blockbuster some 20 or 30 years ago. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
What could have shed light on changes in the lives of post-Cosmo girls instead gets mired down by a rather disjointed writing style. When Clements first began researching this book in the early 1990s, there were 38 million single women. Now there are nearly 43 million, making single womanhood one of the most significant social trends as America approaches the millennium. It's a trend that if better understood could dramatically impact our politics, economy, and, most importantly, our view of the sexes. Unfortunately, essayist and novelist Clements (The Dog Is Us, 1985; Rock Me, 1989) doesn't shed as much light on this subject as it deserves. True, Clements, herself a single mother, does interview scads of women on everything from their feelings on sex and creating a home for themselves to their fears of dying alone and their (possible) regrets about not having children. Her method of presenting her information, however, is off-putting and confusing at times. She's at her best in the beginning of each chapter, where she puts forth her basic hypotheses in essay form. It's the following subsections where Clements's work falls apart, as she quotes from various women, using little descriptions that are too cute or, worse, make no sense at all. For example, Abigail, a 37-year-old architect, "is an emotional see-saw." Evelyn B.'s introduction states: "Despite the fact that she is a respected mathematician, Evelyn once had all the attributes needed to be a Class-A wife." This is then followed by Evelyn's short comment on how her friends' husbands hit on her after she got divorced. Huh? Though this work is generally frustrating to read, Clements's best work deals fruitfullywith evolving new family patterns and her tracing of various historical contexts in which single women have found themselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393319538
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/28/1999
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

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What People are saying about this

Marcelle Clemens
Are women saying they don't need men any more?

'I don't think women need men in the same way they once did but in other ways. If we're not dependent on men for survival, we can be dependint on men for more of a dialogue or companionship that's free from compulsion. Women can be with someone because they choose to be. Women are disocovering that being on their own doesn't have to close down their possibilities. It can open them up. -- Quote from interview in People magazine

Karen Durbin
The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life has that exhilarating Eureka! quality common to the best women's writing at the height of the feminist resurgence in the early '70s....The deeper meaning of Clements' title is that we're inventing the future even as we re-invent ourselves.

Meet the Author

Marcelle Clements is a journalist and critic whose work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines. She is the author of The Dog Is Us: And Other Observations, an essay collection, and Rock Me, a novel. She lives in New York City.

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