The New Midlife Crisis

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From John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer” to Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling 2006 memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” our culture has long grappled with what it means to enter middle age. On this episode of Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz examine depictions of that tipping point—and of the crises that often come with it. In the mid-twentieth century (and, depending on your reading of Dante and Balzac, long before that), the phenomenon was largely the purview of men, but massive societal shifts, beginning with the women’s-rights movement, have yielded a new archetype. The hosts discuss how novels like Miranda July’s “All Fours” and Dana Spiotta’s “Wayward” have updated the genre for the modern age. “I think the crisis of midlife,” Schwartz says, “is just the crisis of life, period. You invent it for yourself.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

Miranda July Turns the Lights On,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)
All Fours,” by Miranda July
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005)
Inferno,” by Dante Alighieri
Mrs. Dalloway,” by Virginia Woolf
Cousin Bette,” by Honoré de Balzac
The Swimmer,” by John Cheever (The New Yorker)
“The Swimmer” (1968)
The Women’s Room,” by Marilyn French
Wifey,” by Judy Blume
This Isn’t What Millennial Middle Age Was Supposed to Look Like,” by Jessica Grose (The New York Times)
Wayward,” by Dana Spiotta
Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Eat, Pray, Love” (2010)

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