The Eternal Garden

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This very helpful book, conveniently arranged by decades, describes sexual passages from infancy to old age, an approach which sets it apart from books that deal exclusively with a given age group. Sensitive, non-judgmental, and warm, Olds writes about the people whom she interviewed for this book, as well as drawing on her long writing career. Using mini-biographies, she traces individuals and couples through several passages. Among the people she discusses, a wide range of backgrounds and interests is represented; by emphasizing the universality of her subject, Olds makes it easy for readers to identify and understand their own sexual passages.

Learning about the sexuality of infants and children is an interesting preview to the chapter about adolescents; it will aid parents. Olds continues through the twenties and thirties, dealing with such major sexual turning points as pregnancy, infidelity, infertility, career, and divorce. It is possible, Olds shows, to gain strength from the pain of these events.

The fifth decade is a sexual turning point for many. Extramarital sex is dealt with extensively, with reasons given, as well as stories of the various ways in which people have dealt with it. Couples can be creative in coping with the sameness of marriage while remaining monogamous.

Bodily changes cannot be ignored by the fifties, but this awareness need not call a halt to passion and caring. The way in which sexuality is affected by physical changes, as well as the impact of declining health, retirement, widowhood, and illness, is discussed constructively. Toward the last decade of one’s life, it is possible to say that sexuality is not a central focus but an inner force: It can always be there.