Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"A male 'Eat, Prey, Love.'"

Man in Search of His Anima, a.k.a. His Soul

Menopause Man-Unplugged 
reviewed by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

It was - in retrospect - a risky thing to do: reading a book written by my publisher. It is fiction, but every writer's soul and character comes through in their work. What if his book revealed a person different from the one I knew through phone calls and emails? What if I didn't like it? All reasonable cautions. But I was curious. As it turns out, so is Malcolm Clay, the protagonist. Curious, rebellious, always drawn to the off-center. Well, so was I, starting with the second book in the series, Menopause Man-Unplugged, after giving the first, LeRoi, to a friend.

"I loved it," he said, "A male Eat Prey Love."

I was intrigued. I learned from reviewing another Fisher King Book, Eros and the Shattering Gaze: Transcending (Male) Narcissism by Ken Kimmel, that a woman can learn a great deal about herself by reading books about men. I was still nervous. I knew Mathews' book wasn't academic like Kimmel's. Mel had to be capable of creating a fictional world I was willing to dive into, get lost in, and enjoy, or would I be lost in a quagmire of words and images I couldn't relate to?

Turns out, my worries were a totally ridiculous spinning out of my own "dark side." I fell right into this book - a true Page Turner. While it is technically fiction, it reads like the journal of a very real man, with all his quirks, complexities, and goofball humor, falling for the wrong women, drawn to the wrong situations while desperately searching for the light. I don't know if this was Mathews' intention, but it reads like a prose version of the goofy guys in movies like Hangover - with a very real quest at its core. He throws in poetic references that belie his superficial kick-back persona, such as a framed copy of 'The Definitive Journey' by Juan Ramon Jimenez, Spain's great poet and author of one of my favorites, Platero and I.

At the top of this tale, we find Malcolm in a self-described midlife crisis. He quits his boring job, and moves to a funky flat in Carmel, writing, dreaming, and struggling to find a woman he can connect with in all the completeness of sexuality, and belonging. A tall order, in a world where all the women he picks seem to leave him in the dust.

He turns to male friends for illumination, companionship, and contrast. One pal is married and has kids, " A great marriage," according to Malcolm. His pal urges Malcolm not to ruin it for the rest of the guys on the planet by finding the right woman. His continual mis-fires create a kind of perverse voodoo for all the married guys, "You're doing it for all mankind," chirps the married guy.

Funny, but not so funny, for our menopause man struggling to find his anima (Greek for soul) in the exterior women in his life. This is my Jungian therapist's interpretation, but I can't help it. I have sat with many men who spend so much time looking for it "out there" in a woman, when the true relationship they long for is with the archetypal feminine energy buried within their own inner life.

If Malcolm were reading this review, he might ask, "Just what is an inner life anyway?" It is as individual as it gets. To one person it is the dawning awareness of their own feelings after years of repressing them. To another, it is a rich life of the imagination in which the anima (the feminine soul in a man) or animus (the masculine soul in a woman) are personified in archetypal characters who come to be as real as people in "real life." To another, it is an inner dialog with a voice Jung called the "god image," as distinct from a God as defined by organized religion. Often this inner oracle surfaces when most needed, with wisdom from the depths of the unconscious mind.

Back to Malcolm. If we go with the premise that he is searching for his soul in all the wrong women, we find another parallel with Eat, Pray, Love. In Elizabeth Gilbert's book, in the Pray section, she meets a man who is also suffering and searching. They become friends. In Menopause Man-Unplugged, Malcolm has Shiela, a woman with whom he shares so much, a woman with whom he can be totally himself, a sister, a true friend. "I love you," he tells her, while clarifying to himself that he is not in love with her. An important distinction, and seen in tandem with Gilbert's man-friend, it begs the question: in the transition from wrong-way woman to a relationship with his inner anima, is it desired, even necessary, to find a person of the opposite sex to love purely as a person, without the projections and neurosis so often attached to sexual-romantic love?

I suspect the answer is as eccentric and varied as the nature of an inner life. With regards to Malcolm, I leave you in suspense. Does he find his true calling, the right woman, a breathtaking connection to his inner anima/muse? Does he turn one day to Shiela and realize he can love a true friend with all the passion and devotion he once reserved for the women in his fantasy life? Or does he continue the journey into his new book, third in the series, SamSara?

A final tip of the hat to its author who manages to ignite our awareness of these deep psychological themes while spinning a highly entertaining narrative about ordinary people bungling through life. It is also a great treat as a woman to get such an intimate and hilarious window into what men really talk about when there are no women around. I always suspected it, but holy cow, it explains a lot!

Great soul food, for all of us.

Elizabeth Clark-Stern writes about women, specifically in her play Out of the Shadows: A Story of Toni Wolff and Emma Jung, and Soul Stories, a collection of two novellas with young female protagonists. Also in the upcoming novel of twin adolescent sisters, Two Way Mirror. Her play On the Doorstep of the Castle, the story of Teresa of Avila and Alma de Leon, will be performed at the International Jungian Congress in August 2013. All of these publications are available through Genoa House, a division of Fisher King Press. www.fisherkingpress.com

You might enjoy reading other articles and reviews by Elizabeth Clark-Stern at her blog: www.elizabethclarkstern.com

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