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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stand-out novel from outstanding writer
Joyce Carol Oates is writing at the top of her form with this outstanding novel. Set in wealthy town in upstate New York, the novel opens with the drowning of a Adam Berendt, local sculptor, trying to save a child from drowning. The rest of the novel tells the story of the women of the town, the effect the arrival of the artist had on them, and the greater effect brought...
Published on 21 May 2004 by c westwood

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I read this book on the strength of Rape:A Love Story (which I loved) and couldn't believe the two were written by the same author. Firstly, what a strange title; and secondly, I have met all these characters before, and the story seemed to me too long, formulaic and added nothing to my reading experience.
Published on 28 Jun. 2011 by Mrs. C. M. Velarde


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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stand-out novel from outstanding writer, 21 May 2004
This review is from: Middle Age: A Romance (Hardcover)
Joyce Carol Oates is writing at the top of her form with this outstanding novel. Set in wealthy town in upstate New York, the novel opens with the drowning of a Adam Berendt, local sculptor, trying to save a child from drowning. The rest of the novel tells the story of the women of the town, the effect the arrival of the artist had on them, and the greater effect brought about by his death.
Dealing with personal themes such as "romance", attraction and grief, it also takes a serious look at the lives of a wealthy East coast town, where everyone is "middle-aged", including the mature children and youthful grand-parents. Her characterisation is astounding, which makes this novel a very engaging read.
Finally, I have to say that the hardback US edition is a truly beautiful book.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 50 is fun?, 5 Jan. 2003
By 
Elizabeth Taylor (France) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
I purchased this book while browsing at Heathrow Aiport and what struck me was the opening line. This describes the death of the central character of the book Adam who dies rather embarassingly whilst trying to save a young girl - embarrassing as he has a heart attack in the process as his body is not as young as he thinks it is and as a boat comes to rescue her before he can. Although Adam is the central character in the book we never get to meet him due to his untimely demise - but we do get to know a lot about him though his friends in a middle class surburbia someone in the east coast of the US.
The book is a description told from the individual friends point of view of how they cope with his death as well as an attempt by these friends and through them the reader to understand who Adam was. The interest of the novel is the author's great ability to get inside a character and to see the world from their point of view. Their petty thoughts, their bitchy comments, their doubts, their disappointments and all the thoughts that we keep from one another even our nearest and dearest.
As Adam was an icon of an alternative lifestyle in a dull surburbia of dinner parties and plastic surgery his death acts as a catalyst to the inhabitants of the town all of whom it seems experience some sort of mid life crisis. Once he is dead and the different individual's view of the world can no longer be reflected and propped up by their illuions of Adam they are obliged to fact up to their existance alone. Despite many attempts by the individuals to etch out who Adam was he remains ever elusive. The real interest in the novel is in seeing how the characters come to terms with themselves, how they change in their view of each other, how they come to accept their families warts and all and how each one of them resolves the problem of being middle aged.
This is an excellent read for anyone interested in human nature and some of the descriptions of expressions and feelings are downright funny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ousted to live in the guest house, 16 Sept. 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
The story, in what is a long book of 540 pages, concerns the lives of a group of very rich people in a "village" (that in England would be called a town) in up-state New York.

Adam, a sculptor has become friendly with many of the inhabitants - a spiritual guide to many of the husbands and an object of devotion and desire (none taken up by him) for the wives. The women involved are by far the more fascinating characters. Marina Troy, owner of the village's bookshop and a failed sculptor herself, Augusta Cutler, a Renoir of a woman who is bored by her haute couture life, Camille, married to Lionel very happily, but missing something now that her two children have left the nest, and Abigail Du Pres, a glamorous beauty, divorced and desperate to remain in favour with her sullen 15 year old son Jared.

Adam, in the opening chapter, jumps from a yacht to save a child in difficulties after a rowing boat collapses. He saves the child but suffers a fatal heart attack. It is the aftermath of his death that tears apart the lives of those he leaves behind. Lionel goes off with a young woman who turns out to be very much on the make. Camille takes in Adam's dog Appollo, who has been wandering the neighbourhood looking for his dead master and, soon after, a number of other strays, including one rescued from a freeway accident. These otherwise unwanted dogs fill the gap in Camille's heart, so that even when Lionel realises he is being gulled by the girl he ran off with and returns to Camille, he is ousted to live in the guest house.

The other three women who mainly concern the narrative have equally fascinating and unexpected adventures as a result of their love and regard for a Adam, as does Roger, Adam's lawyer, a divorcee with a strained relationship with his only daughter Robin. Their stories are involving, but sometimes the prose goes into reverie, particularly just before the mid-point of the novel when we get phrases repeated in a slightly different ways to emphasise a point that hardly needed to be made in the first place. A little editing in that section would have turned this into a novel of the finest literary quality. As it is, it still grips and resonates, particularly in the second half when the chapters become shorter and more to the point.

For all these minor cavils it is a brilliant novel. The characterisation shines out as writing by someone with a very strong creative intelligence and the plot itself has a few dips and turns of profundity and enlivenment. Its slower paced sections let it down at times, but one can tolerate that when people come alive so wonderfully on the page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the first book I have read by Joyce Carol Oates. It will not be the last., 6 Jun. 2009
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
The British novelist William Nicholson wrote recently in the "Daily Telegraph" of his difficulties in getting his latest novel published. The problem, it would seem, is that his characters were too suburban and middle class. It is fortunate that American publishers do not share the anti-suburban prejudices of their British colleagues, otherwise we would have been deprived of most of the oeuvre of writers such as John Updike and John Cheever. Or, for that matter, of Joyce Carol Oates' "Middle Age".

The novel is set in Salthill-on-Hudson, an affluent commuter village in the Hudson Valley just north of New York City, and the title reflects the fact that most of the village's inhabitants, and all of the main characters, are middle-aged. (Few young people can afford to buy homes there). The husbands mostly commute to their high-powered jobs in New York; their wives fill in their days by admiring their picture-perfect period homes, shopping and working for various good causes.

The novel opens with bold move on the part of the writer; she kills off her main character in the opening chapter. Adam Berendt, a sculptor in his early fifties, drowns in the river while rescuing a young girl during a Fourth of July party. Yet despite his early demise, Adam is undoubtedly the most important character in the book. In life he was a well-known figure in the village, eccentric yet charismatic and popular, especially with women. In an often materialistic community he stood out from most of his neighbours, being perceived as an idealistic artist-philosopher who lived for Art and Truth rather than money. He was particularly devoted to Socrates, and would often use Socratic reasoning in his debates with his friends. Although he was not handsome, many women (including all the book's main female characters) were sexually attracted to him, and he was reputed to have been the lover of many of them. This reputation, however, seems to have been inaccurate, as although Adam had many female friends these relationships always remained platonic.

The book chronicles the various ways in which a group of Adam's friends are affected by his death. These are his lawyer Roger Cavanagh, Marina Troy, the unmarried owner of a small bookshop, Lionel Hoffmann, a wealthy publisher and his wife Camille, divorcee Abigail Des Pres and Augusta Cutler, the wife of one of Salthill's richest citizens. Some of these are inspired by what they see as Adam's ideals; Marina leaves her bookshop in order to explore her own artistic impulses, and Roger, a successful commercial lawyer, undertakes the defence of a prisoner on Death Row whom he believes to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Others react more negatively; Abigail, already affected by a harrowing divorce from her mean and selfish husband Harry and by her estrangement from her teenage son Jared, is stricken with grief and begins to behave irrationally. Lionel, who sees Adam's death as a troubling reminder of his own mortality, leaves his wife for a younger woman. Augusta, seemingly happily married, mysteriously disappears from home.

Like Augusta's marriage, many things in Salthill are not as tranquil or as perfect as they appear at first sight, but this is not a standard piece of anti-suburbia satire, intended to expose the entire American middle class as complacent or hypocritical conformists. Oates is more interested in the complexities of human nature than in socio-political point scoring, and her main characters are very complex indeed. They certainly have flaws; even Adam turns out to have been rather more materialistic, and to have had a rather murkier past, than many of his friends supposed. Even "Adam Berendt" may not have been his real name. Yet the characters are so recognisably human, so powerfully drawn, that we find ourselves sympathising with them despite their faults, or even sometimes because of them. Abigail, for example, is in many ways a self-destructive figure, but at the same time one whose sufferings arouse pity.

One of the characters dies a bizarre and horrifying death, but for most of the others there is a happy ending. One reviewer expresses "great shock" at "a happy ending of sorts"; an interesting viewpoint, but not one I would share. If we are shocked by a happy ending it is because modern readers, or at least those of sophisticated tastes, have been conditioned to regard happy endings as false and sentimental, so it comes as a shock to discover that there are still literary novelists who are prepared to defy modern convention and end their books on a positive note. Another reviewer expresses the view that the book does not provide a strong sense of message or purpose.

Perhaps a clue to the author's intentions is contained in her subtitle "A Romance". Romantic fiction is, of course, the one genre where a happy ending is still virtually compulsory, which doubtless explains why it is looked on with such disfavour by the literary cognoscenti. Many modern romances, are of course, trashy pulp fiction, but this does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with romance in itself. (It formed a large part of the output of the great nineteenth century novelists, especially Jane Austen). It seemed to me that Joyce Carol Oates was here taking the conventions of the genre and using them for her own ends. Contrary to the other reviewer, I felt that she did have a moral purpose in writing this book.

It seemed to me that this is a book which emphasises the importance of honesty and fidelity in personal relationships and of family values, using that phrase in a wider sense and not in the narrowly politico-sectarian sense applied to it by the Religious Right. Divorce is seen as something negative, which has damaged the lives of Abigail and Roger and their children. Jared and Roger's daughter Robin can both seem like obnoxious, self-centred brats, but we realise that they are only like that because of the stress that the breakup of their families has caused them and because of the bad example set to them by their parents. Similarly, Lionel destroys his own marriage because of his lust and selfishness. Adam may have had a murky past, yet the ideals which he espoused are noble ones, and those characters for whom there is a happy ending are those who have, in their own way, been able to learn something from them. Yet "Middle Age" is not simply a morality tale; it is a powerful and moving drama about the choices made by ordinary people. This is the first book I have read by Joyce Carol Oates. It will not be the last.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kudos For Joyce Carol Oates One More Time, 18 Jan. 2002
By 
Heather Negahdar ""Haze"" (Bridgetown, Barbados) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
Could you want it any better than this? Certainly not. Since reading Middle Age, I intend to delve into more of Ms. Oates'work.
Middle Age is set in a small community of Salthill-on-Hudson,outside Manhattan. Here the
middle age folk are young at heart, sexy and
definitely wealthy. Most of the couples are either divorced, or not living well with each other....but the are taking everything in stride and just enjoying life as much as they possibly can, until the entire community is sent into total shock and despair, and Salthill-on Hudson will never be the same again. Adam Brenddt (a newcomer of sorts to the neighbourhood) dies suddenly after rescuing a litte girl from drowning.
The women of the community take this death very hard as they were all attracted to Adam in different ways.....while the men grieve too, for they will miss their manly talks, his ever-present advise...and of course having a drink in the pub. In fact the men hold Adam in rather high esteem even as his past remains a mytery to them all.
Joyce Carol Oates is so brilliant at throwing delightful characters together and I found myself having deep empathy for both male and female sexes in this book So true to life; you can feel your heart breaking for these characters.
With this remarkable read, you'll meet people just like you and me and some of our friends, and also their children. I gave this book five stars as it is a pager turner with great depth. But then again Ms.Oates never disappoints..........read it real soon
Heather Marshall
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best American Novelist, 24 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
Had multiple Literary Orgasms reading the magnificent prose and awesome dialogue of Middle Age.This book is a true joy to read,Joyce Carol Oates
knows "people" inside-out!This book goes straight to the top of my favourite books list.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-rate novel from first-rate writer, 21 May 2004
This review is from: Middle Age: A Romance (Paperback)
Joyce Carol Oates is writing at the top of her form with this outstanding novel. Set in wealthy town in upstate New York, the novel opens with the drowning of a Adam Berendt, local sculptor, trying to save a child from drowning. The rest of the novel tells the story of the women of the town, the effect the arrival of the artist had on them, and the greater effect brought about by his death.
Dealing with personal themes such as "romance", attraction and grief, it also takes a serious look at the lives of a wealthy East coast town, where everyone is "middle-aged", including the mature children and youthful grand-parents. Her characterisation is astounding, which makes this novel a very engaging read.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Starting New, 13 Nov. 2002
By 
Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
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.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stand-out novel from outstanding novelist, 21 May 2004
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
Joyce Carol Oates is writing at the top of her form with this outstanding novel. Set in wealthy town in upstate New York, the novel opens with the drowning of a Adam Berendt, local sculptor, trying to save a child from drowning. The rest of the novel tells the story of the women of the town, the effect the arrival of the artist had on them, and the greater effect brought about by his death.
Dealing with personal themes such as "romance", attraction and grief, it also takes a serious look at the lives of a wealthy East coast town, where everyone is "middle-aged", including the mature children and youthful grand-parents. Her characterisation is astounding, which makes this novel a very engaging read.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars middle age, 14 Oct. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Middle Age: a romance (Paperback)
*to my princeton friends, who are nowhere in these pages* - this is j.c.o.'s dedication for her novel, defining a setting for the reader right from page one. *middle age* unravels in the midst of america the beautiful, right at that very vulnerable time for the affluent: middle age, when beauty begins to fade, and money is just not enough to buy it back. in pure j.c.o. style, the story revolves around a mysterious character - adam (the first man!) berendt - an outsider, whom everyone loves and nobody really knows. so that we are treated simultaneously to a rashomon-style detective plot - for adam was a different man to different people, and all try to find out who he *really* was; a brilliant psychological story, as conflicts are made to surface by his arrival and disappearance; and a bitter and funny sociological treatise, pocking merciless fun at the selfishness and shortsightedness of the priviledged. j.c.o. at her very best.
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