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The setting is Salthill-on-Hudson, NY, a wealthy community where "everyone is middle-aged"—but looks much younger. In this intensely social environment, Adam Berendt, a charismatic and mysterious sculptor, dies unexpectedly, plunging his most intimate friends into...
The setting is Salthill-on-Hudson, NY, a wealthy community where "everyone is middle-aged"—but looks much younger. In this intensely social environment, Adam Berendt, a charismatic and mysterious sculptor, dies unexpectedly, plunging his most intimate friends into grief. Posthumously, he has a powerful effect upon a number of individuals in ways they could not have anticipated.
How Death enters your life. A telephone ringing.
And maybe you're still waiting for Adam Berendt to call. And maybe you're confused, your heart already pumping absurdly, when a stranger's voice utters the name Adam Berendt and you answer eagerly, hopefully.
"Yes? I'm Marina Troy. What -- what is it?"
That instant before fear strikes. Fear like a sliver of ice entering the heart.
Thwaite was the bearer of Adam Berendt's death. She would learn.
An ugly name, isn't it? Though the child's name, Samantha, is beautiful.
It was Thwaite that would stick in Marina's brain like a burr. Thwaite that became her obsession, she who would have defined herself as a woman free of obsession. A reasonable intelligent unemotional woman yet how Thwaite lodged in her brain as suffocation, choking, tar-tasting death. Thwaite Thwaite in her miserable sleep those nights following Adam's death. Sobbing aloud, furious: "If I'd been there with him on the boat, I wouldn't have let Adam die."
In the derangement of grief Marina Troy quickly came to believe this.
Local TV News! How Adam would have been embarrassed, if, just maybe, secretly proud.
Good Samaritan. Adam Berendt. Resident of Salthill-on-Hudson. July Fourth accident. Hudson River. Rescue of eight-year-old. Adam's face on the glassy screen: squinting his blind eye, smiling. That big head like something sculpted of coarse clay. A mere moment on the TV screen. Swift cut to the much younger Thwaites, parents of the rescued child. Thwaite. Harold and Janice. Jones Point residents. Devastated by. Tragic episode. So very sorry. So very grateful. Courageous man sacrificing his life for our daughter. Our Samantha. Our prayers will be with Adam Berendt. We are hoping to make contact with his family, his survivors. Oh, we hope ... Marina switched off the TV in disgust.
How could she bear it, the banality of Adam as a "Good Samaritan." The banality of the Thwaites' emotion, how disappointingly ordinary they were, and young, stammering into microphones thrust into their dazed faces.
"Well. I must learn to bear it. And more."
She was an adult woman, she knew of loss, death. She was not a naive, self-pitying person.
Her mother was chronically ill, and her father had died three years ago at the age of seventy-nine, so Marina knew, Marina knew what to expect from life, every chichŽ becomes painfully true in time, yet you survive until it's your turn: you don't become middle-aged without learning such primitive wisdom. Yet, when Marina's father had died, Marina had not been taken by surprise. That death had been not only expected, but "merciful." After cancer operations, and months of chemotherapy, the fading of Marina's father's life had been a slow fading of light into dusk and finally into dark. And there you are: death.
Not like Adam's death.
"Adam, God damn you. Why."
She was desperate to recall the last time they'd spoken. She shut her eyes, rubbing her eyes with the palms of her hands: Adam's face!
A doctor at the Jones Point Medical Center had prescribed a sedative for Marina Troy. (Did that mean she'd become hysterical? She'd lost all dignity, and collapsed?) Next morning staggering from her bed that was like a grave, at the top of her house on North Pearl Street. Her storybook house, as Adam had called it fondly. As Marina Troy was a storybook creature to be rescued. (By him?) In sweat-smelling nightclothes, a strap slipping off her shoulder, tugging at a window to raise it higher must breath! must breath! There was some fact that plagued her with its cruelty, its injustice: what? The last time we spoke, I didn't know. If I had known. The ceiling careened over her head with an air of drunken levity. Lilac fleur-de-lis wallpaper of subtly mocking prettiness. Thwaite mixed with the church bells. Thwaite Thwaite clamoring jeering in her head.
Marina's bedroom was a small charming room with small charming windows of aged glass, dating to the mid-1800s, windowpanes badly in need of caulking, overlooking St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church with its heraldic spire floating in the night sky, and its ancient bumpy churchyard. (In which Adam Berendt would certainly not be buried. Adam had been pagan, not Catholic; and Adam had wanted to be "burnt to a crisp" when he died.) North Pearl Street was one of Salthill's oldest streets, hilly and very narrow, and it dead-ended with three charming woodframe houses, one of which was Marina Troy's.
Somehow it had happened (when, exactly?) she'd become thirty-eight years old.
Young enough to be his daughter, Adam Berendt used to joke.
Don't be ridiculous! You're, what? -- fifty? Fifty-two?
Marina, to be perfectly frank, I've lost count.
She removed her sweat-soaked nylon nightgown and wadded it into a ball to toss onto the floor. She'd have liked to peel off her sticky itchy skin and do the same. In the silence following the church bells came the echo Thwaite! Thwaite. The sound of death, those hateful people, negligent parents, youngish, scared, reading off prepared statements to TV reporters, uncertain whether they should smile, or not smile, but one should always smile on TV, yes? -- if only fleetingly, sadly? In truth, Marina didn't detest these people. It was Thwaite that had insinuated itself into her head. Thwaite snarled like her long crimped dark-red hair, which by day she wore plaited and twined about her head ("like Elizabeth I") but by night it snagged and snarled, snaky tendrils trailing across her mouth. Thwaite a mass of such snarls no hairbrush could be dragged through. Thwaite that was the fairy-tale riddle: what is my name, my name is a secret, my name is your death, can you guess my name? Thwaite the helpless tenderness she'd long felt for Adam Berendt, who had been neither her husband nor her lover. Thwaite powerful as no other emotion Marina had ever felt for another person...
|Prologue: Fourth of July||1|
|Part 1||If You Catch Me ...|
|Survived by ...||15|
|Old Mill Way: The Cave||61|
|The Madonna of the Rocks||102|
|Part 2||... And I Don't Escape You|
|The Fell of Dark||193|
|Old Mill Way: The Transformation||238|
|The Girl in the Red Beret||294|
|Part 3||Ever After|
|Old Mill Way: The Attack||439|
|The Lovers, by Night||454|
Is this fair? You leave your home in Salthill-on-Hudson on the muggy afternoon of July Fourth for a cookout (an invitation you didn't really want to accept, but somehow accepted) and return days later in a cheesy-looking funeral urn: bone chunks and chips and coarse gritty powder to be dumped out, scattered, and raked in the crumbly soil of your own garden.Calling this darkly comic novel "a romance," Joyce Carol Oates kills off her hero on the first page, brings his spirit back to comment on his own death, and makes his memory a catalyst to change the lives of his Lexus-driving, privileged, and morally mixed-up friends. Everyone in Salthill-on-Hudson, New York, is middle-aged. Characterized by failed marriages, shallow lives, and liberal causes, the affluent residents enjoy the iconoclast in their midst: sculptor Adam Berendt who disdains their wealth (but secretly has millions) and seduces their women (but beds none of them). When Adam dies in an act of heroism -- or foolish recklessness, his death at first shocks his friends then provokes grief, anger, and baffling questions. Who was Adam Berendt? Where did he come from? What secrets did his past hide? Owner of the town's bookstore, red-haired Marina doesn't know what to do with the legacy he leaves her. Roger, his best friend and lawyer, commits a crime on his behalf. Other friends wreck their marriages, try to recapture their youth, rescue stray dogs, run away from home, or find true love. And all of them are transformed in unexpected and sometimes hilarious ways. Death,identity, and deception form the themes of this exquisitely crafted, modern-day morality tale, and so do love and friendship. But it will take until the closing chapters for readers to find out if good deeds lead to salvation or disaster, and if all roads lead back to Salthill-on-Hudson. Above all, in Middle Age: A Romance Joyce Carol Oates cuts through the fabric of America's materialistic facade to expose the heart inside . . . and the soul of a man aptly named Adam. Questions for Discussion
Fertilizer for weeds.
-- From Middle Age: A Romance
Posted February 15, 2013
Posted May 13, 2005
I absolutely hated the lates JCOates book I attempted, 'I'll Take You There' so I was not sure about this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Although the characters are not exactly likeable, I really got caught up in their lives. I expected a strange ending, (it was OK) but the stories about all the different characters were very absorbing and you start to care deeply for everyone. A very keen look at an affluent New York suburb. This book will appeal mostly to women and would probably be a great book club choice. Recommend.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2002
Advertised as a romance, the book is much more than that. 'Middle Age' paints a disturbing picture of suburbia and yet pushes the reader on to see how the characters reinvent themselves for the better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 21, 2001
I think it's time to take a look at the author's bona fides. Before I bowed out at about 150 pages, I'd decided the game wasn't worth the candle. I might be wrong, but the dude she spent so much time edifying didn't seem to deserve the attention. Does Joyce Carol know something I don't?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 13, 2001
Middle Age is about several upper class characters exploring potential new paths at the mid-point of their lives. At its centre is Adam Berendt whose life is unexpectedly cut off, but whose influence and Socratic interrogation of life acts as a catalyst to transform his friends in the tight-knit community of Salthill. Their lives, as they understand them, dissolve upon his death to be reformed. The mystery of Adam¿s past is threaded throughout the novel opening dozens of different possible beginnings to his life at the same time as multiple endings to the other characters¿ lives are imagined. Oates¿ tremendous skill is to draw a multitude of realistic detail while emotionally constructing her characters¿ thoughts. This method works to unearth strange revelations in her contemplation of mortality and the depthless possibilities of experience. The characters tear off the costumes of their present identity to wear new masks and reconstitute their sense of being. Marina Troy¿s potentiality as an artist has lain dormant for many years, but, through Adam¿s bequest of a residence for solitude, she is given the possibility of expressing her vision. Augusta Cutler leaves her secure life to pursue dangerous new possibilities and trace Adam¿s past. These stories as well as those of the other characters are told in a revolving narrative focus that juxtaposes the characters¿ intentions with the dramatic realizations of their experiences. Their middle age lives turn out not to be about just endings, but multiple beginnings as well. The novel gives a heartfelt portrait of characters that identify themselves alternatively as amorphous and fabled beings and desperate to break from their identification of an ordinary life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2010
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Posted June 16, 2009
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Posted January 28, 2010
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