Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hello again! - The Year We Turned 40, by Liz Fenton

So you know how when you have a blog online, it has to be “hosted” somewhere?  Well.  This was news to me.  A few weeks ago, my boyfriend Jasen pointed out that my website was no longer working.  “Huh” I replied.  “That’s weird.”  I then forgot about it for several days.  Eventually I made a few half-assed attempts to login, and by that point, even WordPress couldn’t locate any of my stuff.
Jasen asked me if I wanted help.  He approached me in a wary fashion, the  same way I approach wild geese.  I’m sure he was afraid I was going to accuse him of mansplaining, which to be fair, I’ve done about half a dozen times.  Jasen is a very patient man.
 “Who’s hosting your website?”  he  asked. “I have no idea” I replied, assuming that he’d look at my registry information and figure it out in half a second.  But alas, it appears that no one was hosting anymore.  Apparently if you use one of the types of WordPress, someone ELSE has to do the hosting, and, I don’t know, honestly my brain makes a loud BRRRDDDDDDDTTTTT whenever someone starts getting into details about coding, or hosting, or anything tech related.  
“Did anyone else have access to your site details?”  He asked, determined to make me be helpful.  “My ex-husband?  He set it up.”  I said, completely unsure if that was even true or not.  Had I changed my password?  Had I needed to?  It wasn’t like it was my bank account or anything.  Jasen gave me a LOOK, which I totally deserved, given that the week before I’d confessed to accidentally mailing my own house keys to someone.  It’s a long story.  Anyway, I assume that at some point the person who set up my site and who does websites professionally switched hosting services, transferred all his own domains, and mine got lost in the shuffle.  This was an extremely long opening story to try to explain why the site was down.  I apologize.  
I came here to review The Year We Turned 40, by Liz Fenton.  I’m not entirely sure why I checked this out.  The blurb said it’s a book about what you’d do differently if you could repeat a year of your life.  It sounds heartwarming and life affirming and not at all like something that would interest me.  Sappy as maple syrup, would have been my initial assessment.  However, the fact that right after I checked out the book I ended up sobbing to the Practical Magic soundtrack while binge eating salty almonds tells me that my hormones were in control, and the hormones, they make me do things that seem out of character.  Sometimes it’s fun to just let it ride.  
This book opens with three characters who are turning 50 and who are filled with regret over the last decade of their lives.  Gabriella wishes she’d been able to convince her husband to have a baby, Jessi is still hung up on the ex-husband she cheated on, and Claire is struggling with her adult daughter and the death of her own mother.  All three characters feel that the year they turned 40 was the year that their lives started to spiral.  On the evening of their birthday, they meet a magician and are given the opportunity to go back one decade and try to work out some of the mistakes they’d made that year.  Then, at the end of the year, they could choose to stay in their 40s or they can go back to the present.  The women are hesitant, but see this as an opportunity to bring some of their wisdom back with them.  This struck me as hilarious, because I worked with a woman who was in her late 50s who always told me she wished she could go back to when she was younger so she’d have her hot young body but she’d have her wise, awesome middle-aged lady brain.  I wanted to say “going back with your current knowledge only works if you’re not still an idiot at 55, KAREN,” but I did not, because I’m not a complete and total dingbat.  
It would be easy - and bad - storytelling to have the women go back in time far enough that they could avoid their entanglements entirely.  Gabriella could tell her husband she wants children before he’s already adapted to life without them, Jessi could skip her one night stand, and Claire could be more strict with her daughter and get her mom to the doctor for regular tests before the cancer sets in. This book doesn't do that.  The characters go back in time to the day after their combined 40th birthday party, and at this point, the mistakes have already been made.  
The characters talk a lot about the differences between 2005 and 2015, no iPhones being a major adjustment.  I hear that.  I use my google map to navigate everywhere.  I know some Gen X-ers are rolling their eyes and saying that people today can’t think without their phones and that if we were less reliant on them we’d be better with things such as navigation but the truth is that in 2005, even when I didn’t have a google map, I would mostly just drive vaguely in the direction I was supposed to go, hoping I’d hit a major landmark at some point.  I spent a lot of time driving around, insisting that I wasn’t LOST, I was headed NORTH.  I fooled nobody.
One of the best aspects of this book is that the characters aren’t magically any smarter or better because their minds are older.  They still make some dumb mistakes.  They still try to cover their own butts.  They’re just better at confronting the issues earlier because they’ve already lived the life where they did nothing and watched things fall apart.  Because of this, things still go to shit, but they go to shit sooner, and in different ways.  
Obviously things work out, because this is feel good fiction.  They don’t necessarily work out the way the characters think they will, but at least no one is stuck with a decade of regrets.  At the end of the book they decide to stay in their 40s, having learned some things about conflict resolution.  All in all, this was less syrupy than I expected and surprisingly realistic about some of the bad stuff about life.  Some things just won’t change, and you’re going to have to deal with it.  
I have one major complaint about the book, and that’s the windup to Gabriella’s baby storyline.  Gabriella is an author who was very open with her husband and family that she didn’t want kids, until Jessi has a baby.  Gabriella sees the baby and -  boom!  She wants a baby!  Is this a thing that happens?  Women turn 40, see a baby, and decide right there that they need one too, like it’s a fancy purse or something?  I get where the author was going, and she writes a really good storyline where Gabriella, former wonder woman, goes banana-pants and pushes her husband into trying to conceive.  Because after a decade of her husband trying to manipulate her into having kids, of course he’s changed his mind.  They are both dysfunctional people who should probably not be making babies.  I enjoyed the downward spiral here, but the spontaneous baby fever that started it made me roll my eyes so hard I saw stars.  
All in all, a good audiobook, if you’re not a stickler for the authenticity of English accents.
I’ll try not to lose all my work again, but no promises!  I’ll be reposting some older reviews that I had backed up, once I figure out how to do that.  If I could go back in time, I’d be better about password security, knowing how websites work, and organizing all my saved backup work files.  Lesson learned, Liz Fenton, lesson learned.