TOKYO (Reuters) - Clover is over 50 and under appreciated, a housewife and mother of grown children whose life takes an unexpected turn one day when she wakes up invisible. Worse, her husband and son don’t even notice that she’s gone.
But the heroine of bestselling novelist Jeanne Ray’s “Calling Invisible Women” bands together with other invisible women in her town to fight back, gaining a new view of her town, her loved ones and herself.
Ray, who didn’t start writing novels until she was 60 - inspired partly by the urge to show that people “of a certain age” had as much fun and delight in their lives as younger folk - said a liking on her part for people with superpowers, like invisibility, gave the book its driving impetus.
“Then, of course, just the plight of women over 50. I say plight not because I’m feeling sorry for women over 50 particularly, but I think they are a bit under appreciated,” the nearly 75-year-old said in a telephone interview.
“They really do - and I’m speaking of myself as well - become slaves to their home in many ways, and put aside the talents that they have or had, and instead make a nice home and make hubby happy, and make the kids, hopefully, grow up strong.”
In Ray’s case, though she always wanted to become a writer, her Depression-era parents encouraged her into the steady job of nursing - a career that ultimately helped her writing.
“Nursing I can credit with giving me insight into human beings that I would have never been able to have before. It’s kind of like being a bartender,” she said.
She was still a nurse when a chance encounter at a grocery store after her 60th birthday inspired her to start writing.
“I walked into the store, I saw some magazines, and on the cover of the magazines were ‘Sex at 20,30 and 40’ and ‘Beauty at 30, 40 and 50,’” she said.
“I just thought ‘I feel like I’m dropping off of a precipice and nobody’s noticing. I am happy, I am healthy, I’m attractive - and I want to write a book and let people know that there are a lot of 60-year-olds out there who have all the attributes of people who are much younger.”
The result was “Julie and Romeo,” the story of two people over 60 who find new romance - and the first of six novels, many of which center on women in their 50s and 60s and have led Ray to be dubbed “the mother of senior literature,” a title she says she finds hilarious.
While still in the draft stage, Ray received advice on her first book from her daughter, award-winning novelist Ann Patchett, who has written “Bel Canto” and other books.
“She encouraged me so much, and she taught me things, like how to begin and end a chapter,” Ray said.
“She was very patient, and she was very impatient, in that she said ‘writing is work, you have to remember it’s not just playtime that you can take your time with this. Somebody else is going to write this book before you can get it done.’”
Asked if the two talk writing and bounce ideas off each other now that they are both veteran novelists, Ray said that such conversations are limited despite the two being close and living within blocks of each other in Nashville, Tennessee.
“She has many friends who are writers and if she has a question about something she’s written, she would turn to them, and rightly so, rather than me,” she said.
“I usually read all of her things in manuscript form and I will make very broad suggestions, but it’s her work and I think she feels the same about me, unless I ask her specifically for help.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato