The first time I heard of the concept of a midlife crisis I was a teenager, and my forty-something father had just purchased his very first motorcycle. He rode the thing a few times with either me or my mother panicking on the back seat, and then the machine quietly disappeared from our lives, never to be seen again.
The midlife crisis that Clayton Joyce goes through in Jason Whittle’s novel is a little more invasive.
It all starts with Clayton’s fortieth birthday, which he celebrates with his wife and young son.
Clayton is cool about turning forty. He won’t be having a midlife crisis, he reasons, because midlife crises are for those who are disappointed with their lives and he, Clayton, is doing just fine: running his own company, parenting a bright and healthy son and enjoying a stable marriage in which he and his wife “still had a sex life; they did it at least once a month because otherwise they’d start to think they had problems. In fact, since it was his birthday, this month’s night would be tonight.”
But after this monthly sex act – which is presented in a hilarious scene that in itself is reason enough to read this book – it does strike Clayton that he’s put on quite a lot of weight and he decides to take up jogging. That’s when things start to go wrong.
On the book cover Midlife Crisis is described as ‘a darkly comic psychological thriller’ .
At the beginning of the book, and for a fair bit into it, the comic aspect is most prominent. So prominent even that you might wonder why it’s presented as a thriller.
But that becomes obvious as the cosy, funny story starts to change: it becomes less cosy and a little more tense, and after another few chapters all cosiness had been tossed aside and you will find yourself sucked into a dark and disturbing thriller, so nail-bitingly scary that it will stop you from sleeping.
This change in atmosphere is so gradual that when I was reading the book, I didn’t consciously notice it until I stopped reading and realised I’d become quite agitated. I was anxious to learn what the hell would happen next, so I got back to the book as soon as I could. What happened next was unexpected and, I admit, rather shocking…
Midlife Crisis is a novella, so a fairly short read. The various characters are well-presented and Clayton, the main character, is particularly believable. He is a man to my heart: geeky, clumsy and neurotic, and the life he and his wife have together is an extraordinary depiction of the very ordinary.
With Clayton coming across as innocent and likeable and his life being so (sometimes awkwardly) familiar, the evolvement of his rather dull existence into a full-blown thriller is all the more poignant. Midlife Crisis might leave the reader wondering if something like this could indeed happen to an Everyman like Clayton – and if it could, could it then also happen to someone like them?
Midlife Crisis is not suitable for everyone, and definitely only for adults. There is sex, there is violence, and towards the end there is also a particularly gruesome scene where the two are combined. You’ll need a strong stomach for that one.
But if you can handle that (or if you just scan over that one scene) Midlife Crisis offers an unusual and exciting read which will have you laugh out loud, gasp with horror and wonder about human nature.