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Formats
Ebook Details
  • 09/2020
  • 9780978684235
  • 298 pages
  • $9.99
Paperback Details
  • 09/2020
  • 9780978684228
  • 296 pages
  • $14.99
Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles
Nobody prepared Kris Wright and her friends—the G7—for the toughest trial of adulthood: unemployment after age fifty. All her life, Kris assumed that working hard and doing the right thing would ensure a full and satisfying career. When she unexpectedly loses her job, she’s forced to reexamine those assumptions, reinvent herself, and regain control of her identity. In this tightly written coming-of-middle-age novel set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, female friendships and changing family dynamics provide the backdrop for a second act no one—least of all Kris—anticipated. While providing a cautionary tale about the perils facing midlife women in the job market, this feel-good reinvention novel serves up realism with a side of humor and a sliver of revenge.
Reviews
Reitenbach’s smoothly written debut novel follows seven friends and their struggles navigating the professional world as middle-aged women. Kris is an intelligent, creative marketing director for Klassik Eyewear, a small company in Albuquerque that makes cheap, boring eyeglasses. The obnoxious new owner, Roger, is tanking the company, and she and several other women over age 50 are laid off after they refuse to either shut up or quit. Commiserating with her friends about the ageism she faces while looking for a new job, she learns they’re all having similar hardships. After a shocking event, Kris and her friends are given a chance at creating their own dreams.

Writing primarily from Kris’s point of view while occasionally diverging to other characters, Reitenbach gives readers a deep understanding of the difficulties these women face in dealing with both ageism and sexism. Kris’s great ideas are ignored by Roger, whose father bought him the company, and she struggles to obtain financial backing and isn’t taken seriously when she tries to purchase the company herself, even though she has a detailed, well conceived plan. Kris’s friend and colleague Diana is regularly ridiculed for her weight by both Roger and her boyfriends, and her talents are overlooked in her receptionist job.

The sections about Kris’s friends and what they face are rich and well written but unfortunately brief, while those about Kris are light on emotion and heavy on the Klassik Eyewear day-to-day. Those interested in an in-depth look at how small production businesses are run will enjoy the details of Kris’s challenges as she rebrands the company, shifts to targeting the luxury market, and tries to undo Roger’s damage; they’ll also enjoy the many scenes where she earns lavish praise from her colleagues for her design sense, collaborative approach, and smart decisions. This low-key story is pure wish fulfillment for older women in the corporate world.

Takeaway: Fans of older women fighting to have their talents recognized will cheer for this novel’s charming heroine as she reinvents the company she loves and her own future in the business world.

Great for fans of Anne Tyler's Clock Dance, Elizabeth Berg's Night of Miracles.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

ForewordClarion Reviews

Optics is a charming novel about the challenges and possibilities of women’s middle years.

In Gail Reitenbach’s warm and funny novel Optics, a close-knit group of middle-aged gal pals navigate ageism and turn setbacks into comebacks.

Kris could be having a midlife crisis; her baby girl is grown, her husband is talking about early retirement, her wrinkles are more prominent, and she’s suddenly found herself unemployed after a long-term career. Instead, Kris is having a midlife glow-up—reframing the glasses game in her own vision. With a support team of friends and family who are there for venting and advice, Kris decides to fight society’s expectations and make sure that her second act is even better than her first.

Kris is a smart and confident lead who’s able to turn bad situations into opportunities for personal growth. Her methodical question-and-answer-style thought process is highlighted in italicized internal conversations that portray her hopes and anxieties. Kris and her husband, Mike, have a sensible and stable relationship that thrives because of their open and honest communication. Their conversations reveal concerns relevant to their age range, as of caretaking for their elderly parents, becoming “empty nesters,” and contemplating retirement plans.

Kris’s empowered group of women friends, who call themselves the G7, act as sounding boards for each other. Their lengthy conversations over food and wine take center stage and include mouthwatering descriptions of their snacks. Though rumors and secrets are shared, their discussions rise above mere gossip to tackle topics like women’s socioeconomic difficulties after a certain age, microaggressions, the pressure of looking youthful, and declining statistics for meaningful and well-paying work. When a surprise windfall comes their way, the women have a chance to invest in themselves, leading to reflective questions about fulfillment and risk. One of the G7, Diana, is a close friend with Kris; she sometimes shares narrative duties, adding her own frustrations as an overweight woman who deals with fatphobic behavior from her boss and potential suitors.

Kris balances her ambition with caution, seeking out mentors and researching the gaps in her experience in the glasses industry. Business details about the glasses manufacturing world are realistic and informative, but their lengthy and dry paragraphs slow the book’s pace. Kris’s innovation and vision bring excitement back as her company captures the cultural and natural beauty of New Mexico in its pallets and patterns. The colorful sunsets, bold wildlife, and bright flowers that inspire Kris’s unique designs blossom from lush locations, like the trail that Kris and Mike enjoy on a psychologically layered hike in Taos. Kris’s artistic collaborator, Paolo, adds a personal connection to their frames, referencing his diverse genealogy and creative upbringing.

A few conflicts arise in the form of uncooperative employees and business delays, but there is a general lack of conflict in the text; some of its developments are predictable. Kris’s determination and self-direction drives the novel toward its comforting, open ending.

Optics is a charming novel about the challenges and possibilities of women’s middle years.

Formats
Ebook Details
  • 09/2020
  • 9780978684235
  • 298 pages
  • $9.99
Paperback Details
  • 09/2020
  • 9780978684228
  • 296 pages
  • $14.99

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