The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, May 5, 2006, Books

The May Queen: Women on Life, Love, Work, and Pulling It All Together in Your 30s

edited by Andrea N. Richesin

Tarcher/Penguin, 269 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Everything happened once I turned 30. In three and a half years, I finished a master's degree and started a doctorate, lost my mother, got married, and had a baby. Perhaps that old saw is true, that life, the sweet and the sour of it, begins when you're 30. That's why this collection of essays by a wide array of talented women writers (and musicians) feels like coming home.

To wit: Chick-lit It-chick Jennifer Weiner's essay, "35," is concerned with how society conditions women to fear single thirtysomething-hood, and how the rhetoric of how to be proper sexual subjects is controlled by whomever has the publishing contract. She reveals the truths that the popular discourse elides: Marriage and motherhood ain't a bed of roses. They just present a different set of problems than what we knew in those days of waking up feeling like reconstituted fish and lying next to a smelly stranger.

Tanya Donnelly reveals the river to be her muse in "River Love Song" and is so self-absorbed as to be off-putting. Austin-based writer and singer-songwriter Dao Strom (see above) shares lessons learned through the lens of motherhood and divulges that nothing and no one will knock you off your high horse like your child will. Novelist and onetime Chronicle contributor Amanda Eyre Ward brings a tear to the eye with "To All the Men I've Loved Before," a series of letters to her former lovers from preschool to her husband. Anyone who's ever had an inappropriate boyfriend will see herself here.

The May Queen isn't a mere bundle of chatty, girl-talky annoyances. Rather, it is a mature collection of reminiscences and honest insights from women who know enough to know they haven't seen it all, and embrace what's yet to come. In this respect, it serves as a comfortable conversation among women friends who can relate; better yet, the smart twentysomething will use it as a primer for graceful entry into life as we know it on the other side of that monumental birthday.

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