Novels about entering middle age?
November 17, 2013 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend fiction books that feature a main character who is entering middle age and is evaluating his or her life so far, and what direction their life should take?

I can think of only two:

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow

The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy (at age 30, the main character is perhaps not exactly middle-aged, but he is evaluating life in a middle-aged sort of way)

Can you think of others (preferably ones you would recommend reading)?
posted by mark7570 to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist
posted by annathea at 2:29 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My favorite in the genre is And Then by Natsume Sōseki.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:31 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently read Richard Russo's Straight Man, about a 50-ish English professor at an undistinguished small American university. The action takes place at a time of change and upheaval in both his personal and professional life. It's humorous and well-written, despite being slightly dated (mid-1990s so the main character was in his 20s during the Vietnam War). I'd definitely recommend it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:31 PM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh, seriously, I was just typing my Straight Man recommendation. So I guess this is my secoding of that- it's fantastic and funny.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:36 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like George Orwell's Coming Up For Air for this. The main character grows up in a small country town in England, gets drafted into WWII but sits the war out in an army outpost. Later he returns to the town and everything's changed...mostly because of the war, but also because he's gotten older.
posted by mjklin at 2:43 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Richard Ford's Bascombe Trilogy:

The Sportswriter
Independence Day
The Lay of the Land
posted by ewiar at 2:47 PM on November 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Nick Hornby's "How to Be Good" dissects what happens to a longstanding marriage when one partner undergoes a mid-life outlook conversion.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:50 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Isherwood's A Single Man. Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.
posted by bcwinters at 2:55 PM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Freedom by Jonathan Franzan
posted by jpdoane at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Larry McMurtry's novel, "Duane's Depressed," might do. From the NYT review:

"At the age of 62, Duane has taken to doing a thing utterly unheard of in oil-patch country: walking wherever he goes. Karla, desperate to put a name to his otherwise inexplicable behavior, decides he must be sunk in depression. Duane, however, isn't so sure; as he sees it, he's simply spent the better part of his life in the cab of a pickup truck, doing things he has been expected to do, and he's had enough of it. So, while a mock-epic tempest swirls back in town over his radical behavior, he settles into his hunting cabin to do some hard thinking and to attempt to rework his cluttered life."

(I thought it was good. The last books in the series -- "When the Light Falls" and "Rhino Ranch" -- not so much. YMMV.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:32 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood is fantastic.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:51 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rabbit Redux by John Updike.
posted by goo at 3:54 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons or Back When We Were Grownups.
John Updike's Rabbit is Rich (but start with Rabbit Run; even though Rabbit is still a young man at the end of the first book I think it will satisfy your search for a character who is trying to decide what direction his life should take).
Barbara Pym's Some Tame Gazelle (my favorite).
posted by kbar1 at 3:55 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Duane's Depressed and How to Be Good.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:08 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Would Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys fit the bill?
posted by zoetrope at 5:07 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

High Fidelity
posted by 256 at 5:25 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:19 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Margaret Drabble, The Middle Ground.
posted by BibiRose at 7:19 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:22 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

OK, this is a weird one, but...the protagonist in this book seems to discover himself and learn to accept his life....American Gods by Neil Gaimon. Yes, it is sci-fi/fantasy and no, it is not ABOUT becoming middle-aged. But, a great read, transformed how I saw the world and definitely about a man growing into his destiny.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:19 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

For an orthogonal take: Going Native by Stephen Wright.
posted by OmieWise at 9:51 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

this does not fit the bill in only slightest way, but it's one of my favorite books, so I want to recommend it -- The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead. He's not looking at what direction his life should take so much as evaluating where he is, specifically in comparison to his octogenarian father, who is doing really well, and his teenage daughter, who is also doing well. It's not a novel, but it's at least as entertaining as one.
posted by janey47 at 11:16 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. Granted, the protagonist seems more to be forced into a life change by a violent event, rather than just a discontented middle-age mulling, but he really does have to consider how to make a life for himself and his children, and possibly how to find someone to share it with and whether that can actually happen in a meaningful way. His entire self-concept changes, and it's lovely.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:25 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I'm fascinated by some folks' definition of "middle age," btw. 50ish? 62? Middle age is pretty solidly 35 to 45, IMHO.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:27 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Been a long time since I read it, but Daniel Martin by John Fowles.
posted by Billiken at 11:23 AM on November 19, 2013

Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls
posted by PussKillian at 1:52 PM on November 20, 2013

I just read Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea. It is narrated by a man who retires from a career in theater and relocates from London to a house by the sea, intending to write his memoirs. Friends, enemies, acquaintances and ex-lovers from his former life crop up and it turns out that retirement is not without adventure and intrigue. I found it humorous and touching, though I did not admire the protagonist very much.

Along the same theme is J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man, about a middle-aged loner who suffers a bike accident. It's got a twist to it that recalls the movie Stranger than Fiction.

Also Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case, about a burn-out architect who leaves his life in Europe and goes to work in a leper colony in Africa.
posted by icemill at 8:03 PM on November 22, 2013

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