When do we start to lose our identity?
This is the question that permeates Camille Pagan’s heartwarming, humorous, and thoughtful book, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties.
Maggie Halfmoon has never questioned her identity. She stopped being a social worker years ago after a physical threat on the job. But her husband Adam was more than happy to take over as the breadwinner while she “leaned out” and took care of the kids. By all accounts, she has been happy. She has been a good wife, a good mom, a good daughter, and even a good daughter-in-law. Everything has been “good.”
But one day her husband announces that he has fallen out of love and is leaving.
Suddenly, Maggie is left with nothing. For the last thirty years, her whole self has been defined by her relationship to her husband and family. If he is gone, then who is she?
This is the question Maggie is now forced to ask herself. And the answer is: she doesn’t know.
So she searches.
Her quest takes her first to Italy, where she was supposed to have sojourned with her husband for their anniversary. As her friend jokes, “this seems very Eat, Pray, Love to me.” But, Pagan carefully avoids that cliché. This trip is not the climax of the book, just the first step of the journey.
And importantly, nothing comes easy along the way. She doesn’t score a miracle job, hook up with a hot young man or move off to Hawaii. Maggie takes hesitant, realistic, baby steps in her search for herself. On her quest, she makes a strong bond with a new friend, moves away from home, embarks on a new relationship, and regains her passion for social work and helping others. As her friend tells her “there is a light in you that wasn’t there those last years of your marriage.” She is finally rediscovering the woman last seen in her thirties.
But when ex-husband has a health scare, she starts to understand his viewpoint as well. Just as she had lost her identity somewhere in their marriage, so had he. As the years piled up, Adam found himself in a “soul-sucking” job, trapped and stultified trying to support the family. To escape this, he had an affair with someone who saw him differently, who “made him feel like he had options.”
I won’t spoil the book by saying what happens next. But, Maggie has a decision to make. Does she follow a safe road, or the less certain one? And if she falls into a new relationship again, will it blow out the little light that just started shining inside her?
You might think these substantial themes would weigh the book down, but this is anything but the case. Maggie’s wit, sense of discovery and sympathetic characters make this an engaging and addictive read. By the end, I felt myself solidly in Maggie’s shoes, tearing through the pages. Which way would she decide? What would I have done in her place?
Suffice it to say that in the end, Maggie does what is right for her.
Would you have done the same?
You’ll just have to read it yourself to find out.
For more information on the author, please visit her website at camillepagan.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Camille Pagán is the author of four novels: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, Forever is the Worst Long Time, The Art of Forgetting, and the #1 Amazon Kindle bestseller Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, which was recently optioned for film by Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films. A journalist and editor specializing in health, Pagán has written for Forbes; O, The Oprah Magazine; Parade; Real Simple; Time; WebMD; and many other publications and websites. She lives with her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Visit her at www.camillepagan.com.