An au­thor shows how not to be­have at 40.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY DE­BRA BRUNO

For some rea­son, I had the im­pres­sion that Pamela Druck­er­man’s new book, “There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Com­ing-of-Age Story,” would be more like “Bring­ing Up Bébé,” her charm­ing and funny book that mixed in plenty of good ad­vice about what French par­ents are do­ing right, and Amer­i­can par­ents are do­ing wrong, in chil­drea­r­ing. That book was am­bi­tious — Get a baby on a four-times-a-day feed­ing sched­ule? No bananas be­fore dinner? — but over­all, the self-ef­fac­ing tone made it highly read­able and thought-pro­vok­ing.

So I might have had the wrong ap­proach to “There Are No Grown-Ups.” It turns out that an al­ter­na­tive ti­tle could have been “How a Three­some With my Hus­band Un­locked My Voice.” Druck­er­man tells us that her hus­band asked for a three­some as a 40th birth­day present. She seems to have hes­i­tated but floated the idea of an es­say based on the ex­pe­ri­ence past a magazine edi­tor, who im­me­di­ately ac­cepted, and she felt obliged to go through with the event. As one does.

As a writer, I to­tally get the whole free­lancer-with-a-great-story theme. But no.

When I told my own hus­band about this birth­day re­quest — the wife, plus an­other woman, of course — he looked wary, like maybe this was an­other of those wifely traps, like the one where I ask him whether I look good in an out­fit. “They’re liv­ing in France,” Bob of­fered.

When her hus­band, Si­mon, made his re­quest, Druck­er­man did not take to her bed, cry­ing, for days. Or call her mother for moral sup­port. Or slam doors. Which is the way I might re­act to an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion on a blue sweater, let alone a three­some.

By the way, there’s no need to go and look up the 2010 es­say on­line. It’s right there, pretty much word for word, in Chap­ter 7. The fall­out from the whole thing got quite a bit of press when “Bébé” came out in 2012, al­though much of that was con­nected to the ques­tion of whether Druck­er­man could pose as a par­ent­ing ex­pert while writ­ing about her out­side-the-norm sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences. I sup­pose parental judg­ment might be part of the is­sue, but isn’t the larger topic how the three­some might have af­fected her mar­riage?

And then there’s the ques­tion of whether this was any fun at all for Druck­er­man. She talks about a lot of “am­bigu­ous moan­ing.” The ren­de­vous ended with her scratch­ing the backs of both her hus­band and the other woman while they got it on. Again, just, no. And to raise the in­evitable ques­tion: Since the woman in­volved con­tacted her af­ter­ward to say she’d be ready to do it again, and her hus­band was amenable ev­ery time an­other fe­male friend men­tioned she’d also love to try a three­some, what’s to stop the hus­band and an­other woman from get­ting to­gether with­out the wife? Es­pe­cially since it seems as though the hus­band and the other woman were gen­er­ally happy to end as a two­some with an ob­server.

I’m not go­ing to lie: I spent the rest of the book look­ing for ev­i­dence that the mar­riage still ex­ists.

The same in­sou­ciance that al­lows Druck­er­man’s blithe retelling of her three­some also gets her through an ac­count of her non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma, which leaves her bald from chemo­ther­apy. She’s less in­tro­spec­tive than full of quips about peo­ple’s re­ac­tions to her look, and it does leave the over­all im­pres­sion that she chooses to scratch the sur­face for a good chuckle rather than go deeper into her fears or suf­fer­ing. In an odd note, the woman from her three­some of­fers to babysit while she’s un­der­go­ing treat­ment. Wisely, she turns her down.

Granted, Druck­er­man is an en­ter­tain­ing writer who can make cancer laugh-out-loud funny. She de­scribes go­ing on TV shows to tout her book, wear­ing both a wig and the beret she nor­mally used to cover her bald head, even though it makes her look “like a Sat­mar Ha­sidic wife.”

I wish ev­ery chap­ter were this funny and per­sonal. There are too many bor­ing chap­ters, fillers with sub­jects like wis­dom, the his­tory of the midlife cri­sis and why find­ing your fash­ion style is a good thing. For in­stance, Druck­er­man ar­rives at this bril­liant con­clu­sion: “Just as dress­ing well in your for­ties en­tails mak­ing choices that re­flect who you are, and not just wear­ing generic ba­sics, look­ing good as you get older re­quires ac­cen­tu­at­ing and en­joy­ing what’s spe­cific to you rather than striv­ing for cookie-cut­ter per­fec­tion.” Pro­found.

A few para­graphs later, Druck­er­man tells us that she meets a woman who looks un­can­nily like her. She writes, “For the first time, I can see why some­one could want me sim­ply be­cause I am, specif­i­cally, me.”

She adds, “Oh my God, I un­der­stand why some­one would want to sleep with me!”

This might be the real theme of the book: how she tries to make her­self like­able, in a needy kind of way. But Druck­er­man mainly comes off as tone deaf. After she de­cides that she has noth­ing in com­mon with the women in her daugh­ter’s play­group, it ap­pears they qui­etly kick her out. So if this is a midlife com­ing-of-age story, I’d say it’s still com­ing.

And the mar­riage? There is very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion of­fered, ex­cept a tan­ta­liz­ing section to­ward the end, where she talks about long re­la­tion­ships.

She ad­mits that she tries to fig­ure out her hus­band, a colum­nist, by read­ing some things he’s writ­ten. “Since he’s a writer, I go on­line and read some of his col­umns. It turns out that some ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about my hus­band’s psy­che is on the in­ter­net,” she writes.

Wait a minute. Druck­er­man is so obliv­i­ous to her hus­band’s work life that she hasn’t yet read his col­umns? What kind of de­tached lives do the two lead? Or is it that she is so self-ab­sorbed that she has spent the bet­ter part of her 40-some­thing years ob­sess­ing over her­self and her in­se­cu­ri­ties? Granted, a writer this ob­tuse to other peo­ple could not have writ­ten so many laugh-out-loud funny lines about her foibles, right? But then I think back to her de­scrip­tion of her own 40th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, a cringe-wor­thy fail­ure of an event to which she in­vited peo­ple she as­pired to be­friend, rather than real friends, and al­most no one showed. I’m a lit­tle sad for her. Most self-con­scious peo­ple are so busy shap­ing their pub­lic im­age, an im­age they con­stantly tin­ker with, that they are blinded to the peo­ple around them. This, to me, is the best sign of a full-fledged adult. For­get your­self. Look around and see how many fas­ci­nat­ing lives are not your own. Druck­er­man has writ­ten a midlife cri­sis tale by mak­ing it pretty clear what not to do.

De­bra Bruno is the au­thor, with Bob Davis, of “Bei­jing from A to Z: An Ex­pat Cou­ple’s Ad­ven­tures in China.”

SETH WENIG/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pamela Druck­er­man, pic­tured in 2012, writes in her new book about fash­ion, cancer and her hus­band’s un­usual birth­day re­quest.

By Pamela Druck­er­man Pen­guin Press. 274 pp. $27

THERE ARE NO GROWN-UPS A Midlife Com­ing-of-Age Story

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