Woman reading a book on lap, opens a new window by Prasanna Kumar, opens a new window / Creative Commons Public Domain 1.0, opens a new window / cropped

It’s no secret that finding authentic, complex, fully-fleshed out representations of middle-aged women in fiction is a fraught affair. Here are seven novels, penned by female authors, featuring middle-aged female protagonists that are worth your time:

In Asali Solomon’s The Days of Afrekete, readers are introduced to Liselle Belmont and Selena Octave, two black women who were romantically involved in college. As Liselle throws a dinner party for Winn, her white husband that lost a political bid for state legislature, she reflects on her brief but profound romance with Selena. Drawing from Mrs. Dalloway, Sula and Zami, Solomon’s sharp novel is centered on two compelling and well-drawn middle-aged black women.

Speaking of Mrs. Dalloway, Virigina’s Woolf’s influential novel revolves around a day in the life of her 51-year-old protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, as she goes about her day and reflects on her life.

In Sankofa by Chibunda Onuzo, Anna Bain is a 40-something biracial British woman weathering a period of transition. The death of her mother leads her to discover a diary that belonged to her long-lost father and prompts her to search for him in this moving novel of midlife self-discovery and reckoning with the past. 

Another novel that reckons with the past is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Ruth Young is a Chinese-American writer in her forties living in San Fransisco. When her mother LuiLing is diagnosed with dementia, Ruth rediscovers a document her mother wrote telling her life story and decides to have it translated. Tan’s novel is a beautifully layered exploration of a mother-daughter relationship and hidden family history. 

In Julia Alvarez’s Afterlife, Antonia Vega is a recently retired professor living in Vermont whose husband has unexpectedly died. She finds some surprising direction in her life when a undocumented worker shows up at her door seeking help in a heartwarming story about grief, immigrant communities and familial bonds. 

Dana Spiotta’s Wayward features Sam, a woman in her 50s, who decides to upend her life in this fresh and subversive novel that candidly explores menopause and anger, skewers the affluent white liberal demographic, and feels very timely. 

The eccentric, sly Janina, a 60-something woman with a penchant for astrology, resides in a rural community in Poland when a series of unexplained deaths transpire. What opens as a whodunit evolves into something far more weighty in Olga Torkarczuk’s brillant and darkly funny Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.

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By Kelly

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