Menopause hit Darcey Steinke hard. First came hot flashes. Then insomnia. Then depression. As she struggled to express what was happening to her, she came up against a culture of silence. Some books Steinke found promoted hormone replacement therapy. Others encouraged acceptance. But Steinke longed to understand menopause in a more complex, spiritual, and intellectually engaged way.
Steinke aptly compares the uncontrollable force of menopausal rage to the transformative anger of the Incredible Hulk ... Unsurprisingly, the available analogies are all male; women are accustomed to translating their subjectivity onto men’s bodies ... Steinke is at her best when she writes searchingly, before the moment of understanding ... Steinke partakes in the current trend of cross-genre memoir—stories that are heavily decorated with quotations, part autobiography and part commonplace book. Sometimes authors get the blend right, but usually the quoted texts are unsurprising, and they stand in for the textured analysis of real life. In Steinke’s case, the standardness is perhaps the point ... Flash Count Diary spends most of its pages documenting the kinship of bodies and metaphysics. One of its most memorable scenes is a dramatic performance of this very kinship—the blurring of bodies and souls ... I hope that Steinke’s book, which I consumed hungrily, will encourage a wave of work by and about women undergoing what is, quite literally, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Like Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts portrays a body’s transformation with a wild mix of research and anecdote, or Deborah Levy’s memoir about middle-age rebirth, The Cost of Living, Steinke’s Flash Count Diary is composed of short, discreet paragraphs separated by white space. Perhaps due to the disjointed thought patterns of the menopausal writer or as a balm for the reader with disjointed thoughts. Either way, it gives the short paragraphs more power. When she travels to a European conference on menopause, it takes few words to depict the foolishness of panel after panel of men preaching the sanctity of hormone replacement and laser or surgical vaginal rejuvenation ... I didn’t want to finish this book, to lose [Steinke's] voice telling me my body is nothing to be ashamed of, and, yes, my sense of injustice is sharper.
Steinke wants her book to do more. She finds the literature about menopause to be dispiritingly sparse; at one point, she resorts to providing a close reading of a self-help book by the actor and ThighMaster purveyor Suzanne Somers ... Sometimes she seems aware of the glaring discrepancy between her lofty wisdom and the knottier reality ... Too often, though, the insights in Flash Count Diary feel forced, the analogies strained ... The unevenness extends to the writing, which reads well enough when Steinke is recalling moments that left an indelible mark on her memory, her perspective widened by the distance of time. Her current perspective, though, can occasionally narrow to a pinpoint ... But the book still left me wanting more: more voices, more works about this transformation. The subject feels truly fresh.