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Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays from the Grown-up Years

Review

Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays from the Grown-up Years

In FIFTY THINGS THAT AREN’T MY FAULT, Cathy Guisewite proves that she can impart wit and wisdom about life as an adult female in the United States today just as effectively in an essay format as she did when she wrote her highly successful comic strip. While “Cathy” revolved around a younger woman attempting to navigate life in a time when cultural and gender norms were shifting, this collection of essays addresses another transitional period: middle age.

“In Loving Memory of the Legs I Used to Hate” and “The Day I Outgrew All My Shoes” focus on aging and the often strange and unexpected things that happen to human bodies as individuals grow older. No one ever appreciates what they have until it is gone, and trying to come to terms with aging and its effects is sometimes depressing and often challenging. Guisewite places a witty and touching spin on that phase of life while acknowledging the difficulties inherently involved.

"Guisewite’s humor, empathy and insightfulness combine to create a clever and highly entertaining look at the challenges and issues faced by women today."

Not only does middle age impact a woman’s body in various unkind and depressing ways, that time period also coincides with aging children and aging parents. Frequently referred to as the “sandwich generation” by commentators and researchers, Guisewite hilariously and aptly renames it “the panini generation” because she “feels absolutely flattened out some days by the pressure to be everything to everyone.” While women have made great strides in employment opportunities, social freedoms and independence generally, they continue to bear the lion’s share of duties in the home and with respect to family, and are still held to much greater standards.

Guisewite’s observations are the funniest and most poignant when writing about her parents as she details how exhausting, and often unnecessary, it is to be a “helicopter daughter.” She nicknames them the Mom and Dad Twins (since there are two of them) and laments how much harder it is to get two 90-year-olds to listen than it ever was to reason with a strong-willed two-year-old: “They’re bad listeners, both of them. They say NO to everything. My sisters and I make rules to keep them safe, but as soon as we aren’t looking, our parents do whatever they want.” She relays visits to Florida to “help” them upgrade their electronics, to weed out objects they do not need, and to attempt to determine if her mother should still be driving. After each visit, Guisewite realizes that while her parents are older, they generally still function well on their own and are simply happy to spend time with her, but she continues to struggle not to hover over them constantly.

Family events and relationships form the basis of a significant portion of these essays, including the anticipation versus the reality of holiday dinners and visits to and from parents and college-aged children. She recounts get-togethers that began successfully but were ruined by offering her teenage daughter “useful” (actually unintentionally critical) comments that were meant to help but instead worked to annoy and upset her daughter. Parents will find themselves empathizing with Guisewite’s actions and breathing sighs of relief that other households operate just like theirs.

Different essays will resonate with different readers based on age and life experiences, but “No Comment,” “Helicopter Daughter” and “Don’t Tell a Woman to Just Wear Jeans” are clear standouts in this collection. Guisewite’s humor, empathy and insightfulness combine to create a clever and highly entertaining look at the challenges and issues faced by women today.

Reviewed by Cindy Burnett on April 19, 2019

Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays from the Grown-up Years
by Cathy Guisewite

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2019
  • Genres: Essays, Humor, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0735218420
  • ISBN-13: 9780735218420