Yet another thought-provoking book from a first-time author, Fifty Is Not a Four-Letter Word by Linda Kelsey is a year in the life of Hope Lyndhurst-Steele. As she approaches the big 5-0, Hope has it all: a high-power job as the editor of a popular women's magazine, a loving husband, and a son about to finish his schooling. Being born on New Year's Day, a wonderful party is thrown for Hope, and many of her misgivings about aging are set aside.
Returning to work after the holiday, Hope is informed that her "women can have it all" magazine, Jasmine, is being re-launched as a happy homemaker publication and will be run by a new editor. This is the beginning of Hope's crumbling life. Jack, her laid-back husband is becoming frustrated with her cynicism, self-pity and sniping. Olly, her teenage son is running around with the neighborhood "cougar", a divorcee with two small children, and her mother has just announced that she has only six months to live.
This all sounds like a big "downer", but it isn't because of Ms. Kelsey's wry wit and the realistic perspective with which she endows Hope regarding her life. She uses funny metaphors, describing something as "dreary as watching a TV chef boil an egg" and includes funny scenes that make the reader relate to Hope, such as when she buys a ball-thrower for her dog, but can't quite figure out how to "flick" her wrist and get it to work.
Feeling abandoned and lost, Hope starts to rise from the ashes and works to repair her relationships as she grows and tries new things. Becoming a first-time dog owner and joining a trekking group brighten her life and give her time to think about what she wants from life and what she really thinks about the life she had been living. All around Hope there are a variety of relationships from which she can learn and think about what she wants. Her parents, who have been together 55 years and still are totally enthralled with each other. Maddy, her best friend, afraid to acknowledge her love for a man because of what she perceives as disrespect toward a loved-one. Nick and Sally, a couple who have lost a child and now work together to create a charity. And the couple she aspires to be, her cousin Mike and his partner Stanko, who exhibit their love and respect in every day moments.
I really enjoyed participating in Hope's journey, meeting new friends with her and experiencing new things. The story of bringing home her Labrador puppy, Susanna, re-kindled my desire to have a dog of my own, and the trekking group sounds like a fun way to get in shape, much better than walking the sidewalks alone. I found the ending of the book, which is not the ending of Hope's story, to be extremely intriguing.
This is a wonderful book, and would be great for a discussion group or a writing group. This is the first book from Linda Kelsey to be published in the United States, I am going to try to get my hands on her second, The Secret Lives of Sisters. Fifty Is Not a Four-Letter Word will be available in stores in March.