What do literature and film tell us about living and loving in later life? What is it like to experience life in its latter stages? These are the questions Susan Gubar began to answer during a year in which she and her second husband decided they must leave their beloved home of many years and downsize to an apartment.
Late-Life Love is a unique blend of memoir and literary commentary, with Gubar at the helm as an accomplished, bravely honest and mesmerizing guide. A retired professor at the University of Indiana, she is the co-author of the groundbreaking The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. She’s also shared her own cancer struggle in Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer.
The love of Gubar’s life is retired English professor Donald Gray, with whom she shares a “head-over-heals” romance with literature. She deems her “heals” typo apt, as they have both faced a variety of serious physical challenges: Don, 17 years her senior, fell and required knee surgery as she wrote this book, while she remains weakened by cancer. She’s jubilant to have survived well beyond her projected “expiration date” given at the time of diagnosis, thanks to an experimental drug.
Theirs is a cerebral household catering to a cavalcade of friends, children and grandchildren; readers will delight in being welcomed into the fold. Amid joys and concerns (a sick grandchild, an estranged friend), the author shares the many fears and second thoughts she and her husband have while trying to navigate their monumental transition.
Throughout, Gubar seamlessly weaves in lengthy discussions of a wide range of literature addressing late-life concerns, including works by Shakespeare, John Donne, Donald Hall, Colette, Gabriel García Márquez and Marilynne Robinson. Reading these analyses is like having a season ticket to a series of fascinating literary discussions. Gubar offers both realism and hope, concluding: “Late-life love may heat at a lower temperature, but it bubbles and rises.”