Review: Late-Life Love

In her early 70s, moving with her beloved older husband to a more manageable apartment, editor and critic Susan Gubar (Memoir of a Debulked Woman) turned to literature and the arts to find stories of romance and devotion in old age. Late-Life Love combines criticism with her memoir of the persistent love in her marriage, despite the pains and humiliations of advanced age.
In most works of art, love has been traditionally tied to youth. After a certain age, women in particular are supposed to give up romantic love and focus all their affection on younger generations. "This terrible and terribly influential belief that Eros hates old people seems to be intensified by a lens of ageism that presents people beyond their prime as fearful, garrulous, foolish, solipsistic, or doddering; as useless, isolated, or exploitable--characteristics that crowd out the idea of older people as loving or longing for love."
Couples who meet late in life, as Gubar met her husband, are her first subject. After a certain age, most people have learned a few things about love and relationships, but also carry emotional baggage and deep-set loyalties to family and places. Untrustworthy bodies, anxiety about lost looks and fear that the time left may be too short can all act as obstacles to new love. Some of her other themes are the revival of early infatuations, the exhausting work of caretaking, "the sense of an ending that saturates the powerful affections of love in later life" and lechery as a futile defense against decline and death. A daunting list, but she shows that, for those lucky enough to have a loving partner, passion, kindness and mutual interests can overcome all these difficulties.
Works she considers include poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Donald Hall, the opera Fidelio, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Samuel Beckett's play Happy Days and novels by Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth and John Updike. Between them, she manages her husband's care, quilts, remembers past moments of romance and reports new ones, and attends a cancer support group for herself. They lose old friends, accept the support of family and make the most of what they still have together. The fictional couples she has collected here "extol--amid the ordeals of aging--the mutuality and reciprocity, the passion and compassion at the heart of tender relationships in later life." --Sara Catterall
Shelf Talker: Stories of romantic love in old age from literature and the arts intertwine with a thoughtful memoir of the author's resilient marriage.
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