The Silent Passage

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gail Sheehy expected to sail right through her own menopause, although she didn’t know anything about it. Instead, she “veered off course, lost some of the wind in [her] sails, and almost capsized.” In talking with friends, Sheehy found that she was not alone. So, she published an article about her experiences in VANITY FAIR (October, 1991), one which also included reports from other well-known women willing to make their menopausal stories public.

The overwhelming response inspired Sheehy to expand the article into THE SILENT PASSAGE. To do so, she interviewed more than one hundred women in various stages of menopause and consulted seventy-five experts in areas ranging from sociology and history to Western medicine and herbal nutrition. Sheehy’s motives are clearly stated. The personal stories, she says, are intended to “act as the catalyst for honest conversations about menopause between mothers and daughters, wives and husbands, and their doctors.” The medical information is included to help women become better health consumers and avoid the “scandalous politics of menopause.”

Although someone looking for detailed practical advice may want to look further, Sheehy is doing everyone a service by opening up a subject which has been a “powerful and mysterious taboo.” It is timely, since the Baby-Boomers are coming into middle-age; the number of American women between forty-five and fifty-four is estimated to increase by half in the next decade. Though the style may not be to everyone’s liking (section titles include “Dancing Around Depression” and “Educating Your Man”), Sheehy is exploring important, new territory here. Investigating what she calls the gateway to a second adulthood, Sheehy renders it an opportunity for women to create a new companionship between mind and body. Men, she says, are “programmed by evolution to live short, high-performance lives,” but women are “wired to endure.”