Divorce and the Devil in His Loins
As “Hearts at Sea” is about a man looking for love, “The Midlife Crisis” is about a woman falling out of love. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a man who falls out of love and the effects this has on his wife and their child.
The book opens with a sequence where, as a kid, the wife of the couple in question asks what it means when the animals on the farm are humping each other. “The devil’s in his loins” was always the answer.
She didn’t know what that meant at the time, but it was always the answer. One day, it was even true of an uncle of hers, who had dumped her aunt. He’s a jerk, he’s bad, he’s evil, he has the devil in his loins.
Flash forward to today, where the now 40 year old wife is having marital difficulties with her 45 year old husband. Eventually, it dawns on her that he’s having an affair and she confronts him, eventually kicks him out, and has to start her love life over again. It’s a volatile mix of bad dating stories and self-loathing caused by the divorce.
The devil got to his loins, and now she must pay the price. Life ain’t fair.
In “The Midlife Crisis,” Florence Cestac turns this journey of love, loss, and discovery into an engaging, funny, and well-drawn comic.
Big Noses Teach Big Lessons
The entire book feels like a story a close friend would tell you at the bar after a drink or two has loosened their lips and decorum has gone out the window. It’s brutally honest and wickedly funny. It can be both self-critical and vindictive and spiteful. (Not that it’s not well-deserved, mind you…)
It tells the story in graphic detail, from how the husband grew to be more ornery and less agreeable to how she feels that motherhood had change things in ways even she hadn’t realized, to just how dumb and driven by the wrong things he could get. Make no mistake, the man does the bad thing in this book, unfairly leaving the woman behind with lots of questions and new challenges. It’s classic shiny object syndrome.
Sprinkled through the book are little How To guides presented to the reader in the form of micro-stories that illustrate points like How To Know When Your Husband Is Cheating On You and The Effects of Medication on Moods.
It’s a very personal story, obviously, with lots of little life lessons to be learned. This book is half preventative, and half guidebook for those who find themselves in this position.
It’s never explicitly stated in the book if this is an autobiography or not. The lead character’s name is never given(that I can remember or find through skipping through pages right now), though she has a similar hairstyle to the author. I read the book assuming it was auto-bio, to be honest, but I can’t promise that. If it isn’t, Cestac does an amazing job making it feel like one.
Artistically, Cestac draws big-nosed characters. They’re not quite in the Andre Franquin vein or even Manu Larcinet, but they’re close enough. The mouths usually appear on the sides of the faces, and most heads seem to appear drawn from a top down perspective. It’s a neat trick, and a fun visual. Keeping everything simple like that lets Cestac get away with a lot more craziness, too, including the aforementioned anthropomorphic phallus, but also some of the wackier moments, like when she pictures herself as an animal headed trophy hanging on the wall.
Yes, she draws a male genitalia character more than a couple times. But it fits the book. (And, yes, there’s equal time for women, including an anatomical chart of things that go south at mid-life…)
For Mature Readers
Looks, this is a book about a middle aged woman getting a divorce. What 11 year old is going to want to read it, anyway? OK, the cartoony nature of the art might be slightly appealing. It might remind them of Trolls or something, but I think it’s safe to say that “The Midlife Crisis” being a Mature Readers book for its openness and honesty is hardly a revelation or a turn-off.
I mean, I try to keep Pipeline family friendly. I don’t include preview pages or panels with graphic violence or nudity or swearing. But I also review a wide range of titles. This one deserves a review even if I can’t show some funny panels to you right here.
For a book like this, it just makes sense that it’s aimed at the right audience.
A Little Bit About Florence Cestac
Cestac is the only woman to ever win the Grand Prix at Angouleme, as she did in the year 2000, a few years after this album came out.
She has written and drawn a number of books based on real life circumstances. There’s a direct sequel to this one called “Post Midlife Crisis” book, set during the main characters’ 50s, as she and her girlfriends go away for a weekend, leaving their teenagers in bed. There’s another with the character just about to enter her 60s, “The Latelife Crisis” (available at Izneo in English) starting with the moment the doctor tells her she might have breast cancer. There’s a book on living life as a Catholic, and one on the life of an artist.
She draws all of the books in this style. I will, eventually, read them all.
According to Wikipedia, they made a movie out of “The Midlife Crisis”, though I can’t find a trailer for it on YouTube. Otherwise, I’d embed it here.
Since I love these kinds of videos, here’s a couple minutes of her drawing:
I enjoyed the book, but I’m near the right market for it. I’m in my 40s now and married. Thankfully, I’m not going through the issues Cestac describes in this book, though I’ve seen it enough to wonder how close to that cliff any of us are.
There’s a certain mindset that kicks in at “mid-life” that will resonate with you in this book.
I also love Cestac’s cartooning style, which she fills with energy and punch. She packs a lot onto the page without making it seem leaden. It helps that she sticks to three tiers per page, though, especially when this much of each page is text. Normally, that would bother me, but it reads quickly and is accompanied by art I want to look at, not drawings that happen to match the balloons but otherwise lay flat on the page.
So, if you like this style of art or if the subject matter interests you in some way, jump on this one now. It’s on sale for half price at comiXology until Sunday (2/19) night!
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #24.)