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A Novel About Midlife, Marriage And Unexpected Detours

When a 40-something woman takes a break from her life and her marriage, she finds herself on the precipice of something much bigger

By Anna Saunders

Think ‘midlife crisis’ and you might picture flashy red convertibles, affairs with younger women or bad hair dye jobs. In other words, the trappings of a male midlife crisis.

Even today, stories about women’s midlife crises are too rare to come equipped with their own tropes. And yet, as Miranda July’s new novel All Fours proves, the inner lives of midlife women offer fascinatingly rich, unexplored territory.

All Fours follows an unnamed narrator, who bears more than a passing resemblance to July herself. Like July, she is a married, 40-something mother to a nonbinary child. Also like July she is a “slightly famous” multi-disciplinary artist. (July is a writer, director and artist who has long been celebrated on the artier fringes of Hollywood.)

As the book opens, July’s narrator sets off on a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to New York. Only she doesn’t get far; just 30 minutes into the trip, she takes an abrupt detour – both from her route and her life – in suburban Monrovia.

There she meets Davey, an attractive, 31-year-old rental car salesman, with whom she is instantly infatuated. Unusually for her, the attraction is profoundly physical.

“While all my boyfriends and crushes had been reasonably good-looking, my attraction hovered up near their face, where they kept their talent and power,” she observes after catching a glimpse at his ripped abs. “Now for the first time I understood what all the fuss was about.”

Abandoning her New York trip, she pays Davey’s interior decorator wife Claire $20,000 to transform her nondescript, rented Monrovia motel room into an opulent Parisian-inspired boudoir. That room becomes the base for an illicit, yet unconsummated two-week affair with the hunky Davey.

If this sounds weird, that’s because it is. But All Fours specialises in weird, and things only get stranger from here.

If this sounds weird, that’s because it is. But All Fours specialises in weird, and things only get stranger from here.

When she returns to LA, July’s narrator must re-enter a life that, by comparison, suddenly feels “completely grey, a colourless, never-ending expanse” without Davey. Back at home, she feels more sexually and emotionally distanced from her husband Harris than ever. “Sometimes, I could hear Harris’ dick whistling impatiently like a teakettle, at higher and higher pitches until I finally couldn’t take it and so I initiated.”

Fuelled by a cocktail of perimenopausal hormones, she starts to spiral under the weight of her obsession with Davey. Sexual encounters with unlikely characters and a sudden dedication to strength-training soon follow.

What stops All Fours from becoming outlandish is July’s drily comic sense of humour, and her willingness to tunnel into the most private and closely guarded thoughts and relationships of 40-something women.

As one friend observes, “We’re all so siloed. That’s the problem. No one can see inside anyone else’s relationship so we’re all just casting about in the dark ages!”

At one point, and in a scene based on real life, July’s narrator asks her friends about their experiences of perimenopause. One by one, they reveal the myriad ways in which this fork in the road has them reappraising their understanding of femininity, sex and themselves, and renegotiating the rules of their marriages.

Indeed, it’s the narrator’s friends, and their sage insights, that provide the real backbone to All Fours. Even though the sex is plentiful, graphic (very, very graphic) and unvarnished, this is a novel that could be read as a paean to sustenance and wisdom of female friendships.

So often the stories we read – the ones that fill the big screens, that make the cover of magazines – are about glorious beginnings. The meet-cute. The make-over moment. The up-and-coming artist. The start of a beautiful relationship. After that, these stories imply, life is one pleasantly long, upward trajectory into oblivion.

July thinks otherwise. All Fours focuses on the chronically overlooked stretches of midlife, revealing them to be messy and surprising, regularly expanding and exploding with new discoveries. Which is terrifying or exciting, depending on your perspective, but definitely never boring. Much like All Fours. 


BY Anna Saunders

Anna is the co-founder of PRIMER

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