Menopause hit Darcey Steinke hard. First came hot flushes. Then insomnia. Then depression. As she struggled to understand what was happening to her, she slammed up against a culture of silence and sexism. Some promoted hormone replacement therapy, others encouraged acceptance, but there was little that offered a path to understanding menopause in an engaged way.
Flash Count Diary is a powerful exploration into aspects of menopause that have rarely been written about, including the changing gender landscape that reduced levels of hormones brings, the actualities of transforming desires, and the realities of prejudice against older women. It is a deeply feminist book, honest about the intimations of mortality that menopause signals but also an argument for the ascendency, beauty, and power of the post-reproductive years in women’s lives.
Simultaneously contemplative and messily visceral, this extraordinary fugue on menopause, a book "situated at the crossroads between the metaphysical and the biological," centers on the experience of the aging woman. Finding a kinship with killer whales, the only other species that experiences menopause and lives long past the reproductive years, novelist Steinke (Sister Golden Hair) begins with Lolita, the female whale who has been kept in a tiny pool at the Miami Seaquarium since the 1970s, and ends with a trip to Seattle to see Granny, a 104-year-old pod matriarch. In between, Steinke describes the discomfort, panic and isolation that can be caused by hot flashes, sleeplessness, and emotional and cognitive shifts; explores both the frustration and appeal of the cultural invisibility of older women; and considers what it means to develop a sexuality that does not focus on intercourse. She affirms menopause as part of what it means to be female and human, in contrast to the medical view of menopause as a pathology to be treated with hormone replacements and vaginal rejuvenation. Her ability to translate physical and emotional experiences into words will make menopausal readers feel profoundly seen and move others. Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the title of the book and incorrectly noted the location where Lolita the killer whale is located.