Gail Sheehy Criticism - Essay

Robert Hassenger (review date 18 September 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hassenger, Robert. Review of Passages, by Gail Sheehy. New Republic 175, no. 12 (18 September 1976): 30-1.

[In the following review, Hassenger observes that Sheehy addresses several important issues in Passages, but fails to offer workable ideas about how individuals may successfully negotiate the “passages” through adulthood.]

This book [Passages] is getting a lot of attention. The personality theorists from whom journalist Sheehy has learned—some allege stolen—are dismissing it as pop psychology. Paperback rights have already been sold for a quarter million. Can Truffaut and the Maysles be far behind?

I'd have to...

(The entire section is 1124 words.)

Christopher Lasch (review date 28 October 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lasch, Christopher. “Planned Obsolescence.” New York Review of Books 23, no. 17 (28 October 1976): 7, 10.

[In the following review, Lasch offers a mixed assessment of Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, commenting that the work “rests on medical definitions of reality that remain highly suspect.”]

Psychiatric self-help, the twentieth century's equivalent of “self-culture,” commends itself as the shortest road to health and happiness, at least for those who can't afford regular visits to a psychiatrist. The market for books of psychiatric advice and consolation appears inexhaustible. The style of these manuals, however, has recently...

(The entire section is 2027 words.)

Lynne Bundesen (review date 6 July 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bundesen, Lynne. Review of Spirit of Survival, by Gail Sheehy. Los Angeles Times Book Review (6 July 1986): 5.

[In the following excerpt, Bundesen asserts that Sheehy's subject matter in Spirit of Survival is important, but that the focus of the book is too diffuse, the discussion is weakened by overgeneralizations, and the narrative is overly concerned with Sheehy herself.]

Gail Sheehy is probably best known in this country as the author of Passages. Her work is in the genre usually referred to as “pop sociology.” Sheehy describes herself fearing loneliness and middle age, and when “the man in her life” urges her to join him in...

(The entire section is 671 words.)

Mickey Kaus (review date 28 September 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaus, Mickey. “Not Tonight, Dear.” New Republic 197, no. 3793 (28 September 1987): 43.

[In the following excerpt, Kaus criticizes Sheehy's article on Senator Gary Hart published in the September 1987 issue of Vanity Fair.]

In her widely publicized article on Gary Hart in the September issue of Vanity Fair, Gail Sheehy spends 12,000 words trying to explain why a 50-year-old man would want to have sex with a succession of gorgeous models. She seems to think this is a great mystery. Maybe it was his mother. He “grew up in a severely restricted manner.” Part of him “could not believe he deserved to be successful, because he was a sinner and a backslider.” It seems Hart could “be very intense … but once the passion was consumed, the fantasy fulfilled, and the specter of the start of a relationship reared its head,” he would “shrink back” and the “inner steel door between his two selves would slam shut.” He'd promise to “get together very soon.” And then he didn't call! (They never do.) This, Sheehy speculates, was because he had a “compulsion rooted not in seeking illicit sex but in proving he was so utterly worthy that he could break all the rules.” Yet “he could never believe he was worthy enough.”

Psst, Gail. I have an alternative hypothesis: men don't have sex with women like Donna Rice to prove they are worthy, or unworthy, or because they're scared of their mommas, or whatever. Men have sex with women like Donna Rice because men like to have sex with women like Donna Rice. Next Sheehy will offer us a pop-psychological explanation of why salmon swim upstream. I'm not saying Hart isn't odd. But what's odd about him is not his philandering. It's more his tendency to lie repeatedly about it, and other things, often with a testy, put-upon arrogance. Sheehy's women's-mag perspective (What's wrong with these men? Why can't they have “a warm, close, friendly relationship with a woman?”) means she overexplains what hardly needs explaining, and doesn't quite get to the bottom of Hart's real weirdness. For example, she alarmingly describes Hart's '84 campaign as “free of structure,” filled with “chaos” and “bickering.” Has Sheehy ever been in a presidential campaign? As proof of Hart's Gatsby theory of “self-reinvention,” she cites a speech he gave to high school seniors telling them, “You can be anything you want to be.” Pretty scary.

Gail Sheehy and Beth Levine (interview date 20 May 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sheehy, Gail, and Beth Levine. “Gail Sheehy.” Publishers Weekly 233, no. 20 (20 May 1988): 65-6.

[In the following interview, Sheehy discusses her research methods and writing process for Character: America's Search for Leadership.]

Character. Crisis. Survival. Growth. These are the words that have fascinated Gail Sheehy throughout her long writing career. How is one's character shaped by crisis? How does the survival of devastating circumstances afford opportunity for growth? Passages, Sheehy's landmark bestseller of the 1970s, studied predictable adult life crises; Pathfinders profiled people who have emerged victorious from crises or...

(The entire section is 1864 words.)

Merle Rubin (review date 5 August 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Portraits of Six Men Who Would Be President—and One Who Is.” Christian Science Monitor (5 August 1988): 18.

[In the following review, Rubin comments that Sheehy provides a more complete portrait of the political candidates she covers in Character: America's Search for Leadership than is available from other sources, concluding that Sheehy expresses a genuine concern for “the quality of America's leadership” and the future of the nation.]

Surveys show that voters care more about a candidate's character than his politics. But what, in fact, is character, and how, in this age of image consultants, do we get to see it as it really...

(The entire section is 714 words.)

Robert Scheer (review date 16 December 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Scheer, Robert. “How the Other Half Lives.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 December 1990): 1, 11.

[In the following review, Scheer criticizes The Man Who Changed the World, finding fault with the “full-throated arrogance” of the work.]

Mikhail Gorbachev arguably has changed the world more dramatically and with less bloodshed then any leader since Christ, and he certainly deserves something better than Gail Sheehy as a biographer. Hers is a pop-psychology genre of journalism in which the journalist's own odyssey becomes the dominant subject and the historically important figure is reduced to reader bait for the purpose of sales.


(The entire section is 1838 words.)

Matthew Scully (review date 11 February 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Scully, Matthew. “A Soviet Life.” National Review 43, no. 2 (11 February 1991): 48, 50-1.

[In the following review, Scully comments that Sheehy seems overawed by Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's celebrity status in The Man Who Changed the World, arguing that Sheehy mistakes complexity for depth of character.]

The opening sentences of The Man Who Changed the World do not augur well for those wanting a sober, level-headed study of Mikhail Gorbachev: “The eyes. Everyone is struck by the gleam that blazes behind his dark eyes … as if with the intensity of his belief he had burned his image of a new world into their own retinas and they...

(The entire section is 1469 words.)

Xan Smiley (review date 11 April 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Smiley, Xan. “Mystery Man.” New York Review of Books 38, no. 7 (11 April 1991): 35-8.

[In the following excerpt, Smiley discusses Sheehy's analysis of Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's character in The Man Who Changed the World, asserting that Sheehy unconvincingly applies psychological theories from her earlier book Passages to her examination of Gorbachev.]

For all the millions of words consigned to the unwrapping of the Gorbachev enigma, the real man remains a riddle. Indeed, over the past six months—since the two books under review [The Man Who Changed the World, by Gail Sheehy, and The New Russians, by Hendrick Smith]...

(The entire section is 2735 words.)

Alexander Dallin (review date fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dallin, Alexander. Review of The Man Who Changed the World, by Gail Sheehy. Political Science Quarterly 106, no. 3 (fall 1991): 512-13.

[In the following review, Dallin observes that The Man Who Changed the World is fair, readable, and generally accurate, but notes several factual errors in the book.]

Gail Sheehy, a seasoned, polished, and enterprising writer, turns out to have a special fascination with Russia, which she put to good stead in producing this biography of Gorbachev [The Man Who Changed the World]. She spent time in the Soviet Union, interviewing over one hundred people, from Central Committee staffers to Misha's former...

(The entire section is 716 words.)

Joan Frank (review date January 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Frank, Joan. “Germaine, Gail and Gloria: Gladiatrix Redux.” San Francisco Review of Books 17, no. 1 (January 1992): 6-8.

[In the following review, Frank compares Sheehy's Silent Passage to two other books on menopause by prominent feminist authors—The Change, by Germaine Greer and Revolution from Within, by Gloria Steinem.]

The last photo I remember seeing some years ago of feminist writer Germaine Greer showed her watching television with her lover. It was in profile: he relaxed in an armchair, she at his feet, her lanky frame backed up cozily between his knees, her mop of dark hair framing eyes that flashed easy, mocking brilliance,...

(The entire section is 2158 words.)

John H. Taylor (essay date January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Taylor, John H. “Nixon and Sheehy.” American Spectator 28, no. 1 (January 1995): 54-5.

[In the following essay, Taylor, director of the Richard Nixon Library, criticizes an article by Sheehy in Vanity Fair in which he alleges Sheehy reported misinformation about Nixon.]

Two tenets of Richard Nixon's Weltanschauung were that liberals hated to be proved wrong—and that they hated Nixon because he had proved them wrong so often. In his view, it had been his enemies' anger that magnified the spark of Watergate into the wildfire that consumed him.

Even those who believed that Nixon's us-against-them attitude was regrettable...

(The entire section is 1376 words.)

Elizabeth Kaye (review date 23 July 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaye, Elizabeth. “A Passage through Middlescence.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (23 July 1995): 13.

[In the following review, Kaye asserts that although Sheehy offers some interesting insights in New Passages, several of her ideas are unoriginal and poorly written.]

I cannot say it surprised me to read in Gail Sheehy's New Passages that the syndrome she termed “Catch-30 for Couples” in Passages, her best-selling book published in 1970, could now be termed “Catch-40 for Couples.” Sheehy has long been established, after all, as a writer with a facility for what some might describe as beaming light on a murky path and what others...

(The entire section is 1094 words.)

Alan Wolfe (review date 20 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wolfe, Alan. “The Age of Anxiety.” New Republic 213, no. 21 (20 November 1995): 33-9.

[In the following excerpt, Wolfe discusses New Passages in the context of current societal attitudes about aging.]

Being old in a young country was never easy. Nineteenth-century America—forward-looking, pressed for time, anxious for efficiency, proudly mobile—had little patience with the frail. Homage may have been paid to their wisdom, but contempt defined their treatment. The old, as Thomas Cole reminds us in his cultural history of aging in America, constituted an implicit rebuke to Victorian morality. Albert Barnes, a New School Presbyterian, said it best:...

(The entire section is 1909 words.)

Minette Marrin (review date 25 December 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Marrin, Minette. “Spoiled for Choice.” Spectator 283, nos. 8941-8942 (25 December 1999): 57-8.

[In the following review, Marrin asserts that Sheehy offers some interesting and insightful observations in Hillary's Choice, but faults Sheehy for unreliable narration based on unfounded psychological analysis.]

There must be many people who feel that they have long since heard more than enough about Hillary Clinton and her preposterous husband. There must be others whose slight remaining interest has been sated by recent newspaper extracts from Gail Sheehy's new biography, Hillary's Choice, which printed all the best bits. The need for the book...

(The entire section is 978 words.)

Michael Tomasky (review date 7 February 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tomasky, Michael. “The Woman Who Would Be Senator.” Nation 270, no. 5 (7 February 2000): 25.

[In the following review, Tomasky points out several factual errors in Sheehy's reporting in Hillary's Choice, but observes that Sheehy does offer some plausible and convincing psychological insights.]

As you may have heard once or twice, we have a little Senate race going here in New York. The candidate on the Democratic side, by the middle of January, had subjected herself to many of the self-abasing rituals Democrats seeking statewide office in New York must submit to: The call on Al Sharpton; the obligatory trips upstate to prove that the aspirant is not...

(The entire section is 2700 words.)

Christopher Hitchens (review date 17 March 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher. “What She Wanted.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5059 (17 March 2000): 13.

[In the following review, Hitchens offers a positive assessment of Hillary's Choice, noting Sheehy's “expertise.”]

The old joke goes like this, and appears on page 270 of Gail Sheehy's book, Hillary's Choice. The Clintons are motoring through Illinois and stop at a wayside gas station. The pump attendant recognizes Mrs Clinton as an old high-school date, and they chat briefly. As the couple drive on, Bill Clinton says: “Imagine if you'd married him. You could have been pumping gas.” “If I'd married him”, she replies glacially,...

(The entire section is 1724 words.)

Franklin Foer (review date 9 October 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Foer, Franklin. “Analyze This.” New Republic 223, no. 15 (9 October 2000): 12, 14.

[In the following review, Foer criticizes Sheehy's factual errors and sensational reporting in Hillary's Choice.]

For two days this month, the media fixed its attention on George W. Bush's ability to read. On at least three separate occasions, the Texas governor was asked point-blank if he suffers from dyslexia, as an article in Vanity Fair had suggested. And, on three separate occasions, he denied it. But his denials didn't stem the speculation, which found its way into The New York Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune,...

(The entire section is 1496 words.)