Calling invisible Women
by Jeanne Ray
(Crown, $24, G) ISBN 978-0-307-95551-7
***
Jeanne Ray, best known for the “romance doesn’t end at 60” novel Julie & Romeo, returns after a seven year hiatus with a curious little allegory about the plight of middle aged women in today’s society. It’s a whimsical, brief read that intrigues but doesn’t completely satisfy.

Clover Hobart hasn’t felt very vital lately – her husband works long hours at his pediatric practice, her kids are grown, her job has been significantly downsized – but she never expected to become completely invisible. One morning while brushing her teeth, she disappears. Panic-stricken, she tries to seek medical help only to find that the doctor is too distracted to understand that she really isn’t all there. Her family takes her so much for granted that, as long as she keeps wearing clothes and making dinner, they don’t notice anything amiss.

Clover sinks into a depression, until she finds a notice in the local newspaper “calling invisible women” to a meeting at a local hotel. At the meeting, Clover finds she is not the only fifty-something woman suffering from this malady, and that all of the invisibles share the same medical history. Suddenly Clover is inspired – maybe she can use the benefits of invisibility to make a difference in the world. She spends a day at her kids’ former high school and attempts to keep her neighbor’s son from being bullied. But acts like this are meaningless if the women can’t stop the pharmaceutical company from manufacturing and selling the deadly drug combination that causes invisibility. They may be invisible, but they realize they are far from helpless.

The book makes an obvious but still important point about how we often fail to really see each other due to self-involvement in our own busy lives. Late-middle aged women are more invisible than most people but even Clover realizes that she hasn’t fully “seen” her husband and appreciated his dreams. The lesson is tempered by quite a bit of humor, as Clover’s adventures in invisibility lead her into encounters with some colorful characters, from muggers to pot-smoking teenagers and tattoo artists.

I took a good look at my husband of almost 25 years when I finished this book, so the message did make an impact, but its brief length, episodic structure, and rather abrupt ending kept me from becoming fully invested in the characters. Still, it’s nice to see Ms. Ray back in action and always welcome to encounter a novel that emphasizes the contributions mature women like myself can still make to society.

--Susan Scribner


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