Frizzell uses personal stories from her own experiences in the panic years to illuminate the larger social and cultural trends, and gives voice to the uncertainty, confusion, and urgency that tends to characterize this time of life.
It’s a story that will be familiar to many women, even if it makes her sound intermittently neurotic: at one point she starts asking everyone she meets whether she should be a mother ... Regrets accrue at every age, but for women in their fertile years the possibility of regret can feel especially sharp — will you be sorrier about the baby you don’t have or the one you do, the almost-good-enough man you break up with or the almost-good-enough man you decide to marry? ... Frizzell has turned her attention to a compelling part of women’s experience, a time when choices harden into fate and female biology slams headlong into an economic system that was built with the male in mind ... It’s possible that there is some slice of female life not yet packaged as a publishing trend — maybe on the vernal equinox of the seventh year after the onset of menarche a woman can stretch out in her body and know, briefly, that no one has written about the essential experience of this critical juncture — but Frizzell’s landgrab of the long thirties doesn’t leave much over. The compulsive division of women’s lives into disconnected phases is a tiresome habit of the literary business (men do not seem to get this treatment) and the effort to wring profundity from each of them is exhausting ... If this were purely a memoir, my only ground for complaint would be the writing. Frizzell is prone to sloppy imagery ... But these are tolerable annoyances and towards the end, where Frizzell writes frankly about the raw experience of maternity, the prose becomes fresh and incisive ... Frizzell merely puts a fashionable new spin on the old idea that a woman is only as interesting as her reproductive potential.
In her bracing debut, The Panic Years , journalist Nell Frizzell examines the period in a woman’s life where she can have children, and the many dilemmas, heartaches and joys that spring from that ... Frizzell’s warts-and-all approach goes deep into her subject matter, using her own life, and the experience of peers and friends, to give us a raw, affecting and important book on what it means to be a woman in today’s society ... similar in subject matter to Sheila Heti’s Motherhood, The Panic Years is not about the decision itself, or rather it is not, like Heti’s autofiction, about the agonising indecision. She wants a baby but hasn’t found someone to do it with. This conundrum gives the book its tension. As we learn about the many different types of women out there – women who get pregnant early or accidentally, who have abortions, who are childfree by choice – Frizzell’s own desire for a baby is the beating heart of the book.
In a memoir that’s funny and heartfelt, personal and political, she anatomises her experience of the febrile transformation she christens ‘the Flux’: ‘a reckoning of sex, money, biology and power’ triggered, for her, by a breakup before turning 28 ... Frizzell’s compassionate, compulsive prose fizzes with imaginative humour and metaphor (although her careful citation of every possible perspective makes for an excess of lists). Yet I question the book’s timing. If you’re involuntarily single and child-free in lockdown, it may stoke rather than assuage anxiety, the danger of all fertility-lit – a thriving mini-genre ... Ultimately, it’s the memoir of a woman in a loving relationship who had a child easily in her early thirties. The drama’s in her head, which doesn’t invalidate it; it just might seem a bit rich to women struggling to conceive, or meet someone. I don’t like cordoning off issues, but this one is so emotional, a ‘privileged’ perspective can be alienating, even if it’s as well-intentioned as Frizzell’s clearly is ... I admire Frizzell’s bravery, candour and campaigning spirit. Her critique of a society where inadequate, outdated government policy and workplace culture perpetuate gender inequality is sure to spark crucial conversations. Just don’t expect it to calm you down.