At the beginning of my career, many of us considered Anna Quindlen to be our role model.
Her 1980s New York Times column, Life In The 30s, depicted what it was like to be a writer and a working mother. It was truthful, and well-told, and it removed some of the mystique of marriage and motherhood.
Glynnis MacNicol has done something similar with her new book, No One Tells You This. It’s a memoir of the year she turned 40, when she was single, living in New York, and did not have children.
MacNicol and I met over social media and I know a number of her friends. I’ve admired her writing for numerous publications, and sense of entrepreneurship (she is co-founder of TheLi.st, a visibility platform for “awesome women”).
But her book reveals much that I didn’ t know about her, and made me realize that there are many shared experiences between us — and maybe between everyone who is single in their 40s.
MacNicol tells truths that people often think, but don’t voice out loud, whether out of politeness or the reluctance to have people look at them, askance.
One of the most striking sections comes when she talks about moving into a spacious apartment in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.
Now, Red Hook is a hip place, but for years, including the time I lived in Brooklyn, it was overlooked and avoided, especially compared with far chicer areas such as Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Park Slope.
MacNicol is invited by good friends to take the top floor apartment in their house. It is one large room, with skylights, triple the size of a typical city flat. Even the movers are impressed. “Well done,” one says to her as he arrives in her living area.
Her friends are impressed, too, so much that when many of them visit, they begin confessing they wished they’d done what MacNicol did — remain single, rather than submitting to expectations of marriage and children.
MacNicol is candid about the fact that she loves her friends, but sees through their facades.
Flipping through Instagram, she knows the back story of every posed photo — the couples that sleep in separate bedrooms, the woman who immediately got pregnant when she learned her husband was having an affair, presumably so he would be tied to her rather than leave.
MacNicol busts through the facade that to be 40 and unmarried is to be ignored. In fact, she is coping so well that she sometimes becomes one of those people who make you hate your own life.
As much as she takes dissects her friends’ Instagrams, she’s also presenting us with an enviable picture of her single existence.
There is a constant stream of texts from friends checking up on her, the loyal friend who repeatedly offers to give her a 40th birthday party, the editors who send her on glamorous cruises to Europe and a jaunt to Iceland. Champagne and martinis and oysters and steak, and spa trips and even a dude ranch.
Just when you’re about to be overcome by jealousy, however, you realize that her life can be just as melancholy as your own. MacNicol opens and closes the book with her Canadian mother Jean’s illness and death.
Her mother was just 71 when she went into a nursing home, or 30 years younger than my mother was when she went to hospice in 2015. My mother had a graceful exit, really only significantly ill in her last six months, and lucid until a week before she died.
MacNicol’s mother had a terrible time towards the end, her memory gone. There were endless calls to EMS, until MacNicol used all her will to land her mother in a nursing facility (Canadian health care has a long wait).
Once there, her mother so often wandered the halls that nurses made signs with the word, “Jean” and arrows pointing her back to her suite.
MacNicol gets through the trauma of her mother’s decline in almost military fashion, only to fall apart when she visits a bookstore where they often shopped. (My latest deluge came recently at Mamma Mia 2.)
The pages about tending to her mother are a sharp contrast to the life that MacNicol lives in New York, where she has the freedom to go anywhere at a moment’s notice, and gets texts from an unnamed famous person, called “646” for his area code, who pops up at unexpected times.
I found that MacNicol was really telling us two stories — one of a dutiful daughter, one of the life she made for herself otherwise. Her story reminded me of the line from the baseball movie, The Natural.
In it, Iris, played by Glenn Close, says to baseball player Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, “You know, I believe we live two lives. The life we learn with, and the life we live after that.
MacNicol, in her memoir, tells us the life she has learned with. I’m dying to know more about the life she lives after that.
Micheline Maynard is an author and journalist who tweets Micheline Maynard