Hotel Bars and the Art of Life’s Third Stage

Hotel Bars and a number of other stimuli triggered my consciousness to consider how life’s three stages intersect with literature. According to Daisy, the three stages of life should be titled:

Childhood, sexual, and the difficult to name one, postsexual.

As you’ve probably noticed, humans are obsessed by life’s sexual stage during which the focus is finding a partner in order to procreate then rearing and supporting children. Naturally many readers new to this stage flock to steamy “emerging adult” titles, erotica, and romance. Those in the child-rearing portion of this stage might crave the romance or thrills they’ve missed whilst changing diapers or being passed over for promotion, and reach for escapist titles; thrillers, fantasy, mysteries, and romance, because; let’s face it, adult life is difficult.

Second-stage literature encompasses the bulk of titles because second-stagers are obsessed with sex and spend money. And many still seek outwardly to define themselves, features that draw market savvy authors like flies to honey.

Eighty-five percent of content focuses on characters in the thirteen to thirty range.

However the postsexual generation also reads. Sure, some of them are satisfied by the same titles as younger readers. But some of the older set have lost interest in certain aspects of life’s earlier stages. Some have reached the conclusion that romance and heroics don’t hold life’s answers.

Right after finishing Hotel Bars, I came across Midlife Witch Unexpected in a independent authors group promotion. Midlife Witch exemplifies “paranormal women’s fiction,” a literary genre which places a forty-plus heroine in a plot combining elements of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and/or mystery. Intrigued, I did a bit of research into the genre.

Detail from “The Crone Age,” an example of paranormal women’s fiction. However, in real life very few menopausal witches retain this bust to waist ratio.

Have to say, I was amused by the women depicted on some of these novel’s covers, many appearing twenty-years shy of forty. The genre seems to focus on “magic, romance, and starting over.” In short, a child-free woman over forty divorces, moves to a new location, discovers special powers, saves the town or solves the case, and finds a hunky dude. At a glance, the underlying messages seem to be resilience, coping with change, and remaining powerful, attractive, and visible as an older woman.

I’m reminded of a side-of-the road billboard featuring a group of very fit almost naked older people captioned “Can you see us now?” The billboard seemed to be part of a campaign raising awareness of older adults. As an introvert, my response to the billboard was “why would you want to be seen?” And I wonder, how many third stagers care about being seen by the general population. How many still chase, public acclaim or being attractive to a younger hunky dude? What percentage? Aren’t many happy to be left to their gardening, bowls club, bicycling, and game streaming? But paranormal women’s fiction is popular, so the notion of using supernatural powers to dive back into second-stage must appeal to many readers.

Aren’t any forty-somethings and fifty-plusses writing stories about the meaning of life? Or does everyone remain captivated by the love theme?

So I queried on my sci-fi/fantasy group for novels featuring older female protagonists who are okay with themselves. Who don’t feel deficient or tossed aside. Who aren’t seeking a replacement man, replacement family, replacement career to create meaning for themselves in middle age and beyond. I’ll let you know what I uncover.

Maybe part of the issue is that stage three is an extraneous blip of existence, featuring people past prime reproductive age, with minimal evolutionary purpose. Maybe there is no meaning for this group.

But people who’ve lost meaning are usually unhappy, and studies show life happiness peaks around age sixty. Presumably,  everything is less fraught; the kids are gone, the pets are dead, the job is over. Hobbies are still doable. Friends are still healthy and alive. Perhaps oldsters appreciate these experiences more keenly because they’re less embroiled in drama, and they know time is short. Maybe if you’re lucky, drama comes earlier in life. And maybe contentment’s lack of drama accounts for the dearth of third-stage literature.

Of course not everyone ages well. Some people go very dark and looney, wreak great havoc, and make great fodder for novels. Consider Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, a mystery featuring a deeply eccentric older woman.

And the activities of contented older people, whether they’re meditating, contributing to the community, writing novels, crafting, or caring for grandchildren “reverberate until the end of time, in some small way.” And may be of literary interest. Just consider Miss Marple.

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