Originally published January 31, 2020.
With all of the controversy surrounding my new novel, Memoirs of a Middle-Aged White Lady, I wanted to take a moment to set the record straight about my intentions with this book, and to express my complete shock and disappointment at its poor reception.
When I set out to write this novel, which takes place in Iowa and centers around 46-year-old Meradyth Spensir and her 8-year-old son Chab, my goal was to shed light on the struggles that white middle-aged women in America face — struggles that I, a 28-year-old Latino man, don’t know much about but I would imagine are pretty tough. And as far as I’m concerned, I freaking nailed it.
For starters, my publisher, who also happens to be Latino, absolutely loved it, along with everyone else I have sent copies of the book to. Ricky Martin called it “a literary triumph.” Antonio Banderas wrote, “Carlos writes about being white and middle-aged and a woman the way nobody else in America can.” And David Ortiz said, “This novel is so totally authentic. I simply loved it,” before adding it to his Big Papi’s Big Reads Book Club. I didn’t send copies of the book to any middle-aged white women because 1) I don’t know any, and 2) I figured that, if Latino men like it, then surely it will resonate with white middle-aged women as well. That seemed like a given.
Many critics are complaining that I am appropriating white woman culture with this novel. Look, am I a middle-aged white woman? No. But did I interview dozens of middle-aged white women to learn about their struggles and experiences? Also no. What I did do, though, was watch three episodes of Desperate Housewives and drink an entire glass of wine, which I think most people would agree is more than enough research.
As for the so-called “woeful inaccuracies” in my book, let me just quickly address the main ones:
- Yes, I opened the novel with a quote by the author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. And yes, I realize she’s Russian, not American, but I think most readers will agree that Russian and American cultures are similar enough that the quote is still appropriate.
- Throughout the novel, I describe Pottery Barn as being a barn where they sell pottery, which apparently is not the case. I maintain that if they didn’t want people thinking that’s what their store was, then they shouldn’t have called it that.
- The name Chab was not a typo. There are plenty of 8-year-old white American boys named Chab. I googled it.
- Some critics have said that making almost every single main character a white middle-aged stay-at-home mom on the school PTA whose favorite TV show is reruns of Friday Night Lights is stereotypical. Well, stereotypes exist for a reason.
- Regarding the line “Meradyth breathed in the fresh, Rocky Mountain Iowa air,” I simply got Iowa and Utah confused, because both states have four letters and a ton of white people. That mistake could have happened to anyone.
- Lastly, I realize now that menopause is not, in fact, the time in an older woman’s life when she takes a short break from dating men. That one was on me.
Despite these minor cultural inaccuracies, I still think Memoirs of a Middle-Aged White Lady captures the essence of what it means to be a middle-aged white woman in America. I admit that, when the idea first came to me, I was worried that, as a non-woman, a non-white person, and a non-middle-aged person, I wouldn’t be able to do this story justice. But the question I kept asking myself was: if not me, then who? Who was going to write about the middle-aged white woman experience in this country? Middle-aged white women? Can middle-aged white women even type? I’m seriously asking this because, again, I didn’t actually talk to any when I was working on this novel, so I would genuinely like to know.