7 Books About Older Women Behaving Badly
Amy Lee Lillard, author of “Dig Me Out,” recommends novels about women who refuse to disappear and insist on being seen
In our youth-obsessed culture, we want older women to disappear. But what happens when they refuse?
In my new story collection, Dig Me Out, I focus on women filled with anger. And often, that’s older women. When women reach forty, our culture tells us we’re no longer sexy or fertile, not as sweet and pliable. We’re worthless. It’s maddening and infuriating.
Books so often fall prey to this cultural bias by centering young characters. The older women that are featured are minimized, made cute, feisty, or harmless. They accept the imperative of our culture, swallow any anger they might have, and push themselves to the sidelines.
But these seven books celebrate the older woman that defies logic and bias. They won’t go quietly into oblivion. They won’t disappear, and in fact, insist on being seen. Even if that involves letting their anger out. Even if it involves violence.
A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers
A gruesome story with a beautifully self-aware narrator, one who knows the violence and cruelty behind men, and haute cuisine. And she will use her knowledge to make her true mark.
On the first night we meet Dorothy, a renowned food critic in her 50s, she’s picking up a younger man at a bar. After a few wild weeks together, she brutally kills him. But not just that: she slices off pieces of him and makes him the centerpiece of her fancy dinner. The rest of the story is spectacularly visceral prose charting the evolution of a truly wild and dangerous woman.
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick
A graphic novel set in the future, this book creates a world of our biases turned fascist. “Non-compliant” women in this story are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost—a distant Bitch Planet. These are women who are deemed too old, too worthless, too crazy, too dark, too much by the ruling group called the Fathers. On Bitch Planet, overseers require the inmates to participate in an insanely violent game called Megaton for their enrichment. But the older women, the weirdos, the incorrigible, and the deviant will team up, break the rules, and take down the system. Funny, campy, and gloriously gratuitous, this quick read is filled with beautiful, badly-behaved bitches to celebrate.
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom
A young Chinese trans girl runs away to a magical city and finds her chosen family: a group of femmes living and working in the Street of Miracles. The family is led by older women: Kimaya, spreading love to her girls and teaching the lessons of age, and Valaria, the goddess of war, pissed off by years of men behaving badly, and ready for revenge. When one of the young girls is murdered, the group forms a vigilante gang, fighting back against the corrupt cops, violent johns, and transphobic assholes that frequent the Street. Is the violence justified and sustainable? What is it doing to them? Can they ask for a better future? The older women will lead the way.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
One night Chris and her husband meet Dick. Unexpectedly, desperately, she falls in love. So begins an obsession, with Chris inundating Dick with her affection, initiating disastrous rendezvous, and otherwise blowing up her life. As the men around her cry “crazy,” Chris follows her unfathomable desire to where it will lead. That may be called behaving badly. It may be crazy. But it’s real.
The Wicked and the Divine by Kieron Gillen
This graphic novel features The Pantheon, a group of 12 young people who discover they’re actually very old reincarnated gods. And now, in new and youthful bodies, the older women will take full advantage, creating fame as rock gods and modern uber-celebrities. They’ll be dead again soon; why not behave badly? The older women reincarnated as young women are selfish, mean, and domineering. And they fascinate in their sheer audacity to live boldly.
All’s Well by Mona Awad
Miranda was once a budding actress with an adoring husband. But an injury gave her chronic pain that no doctors could fix (and most didn’t believe). Now in middle age, she’s teaching in a mediocre theater program, miserable and desperate. Until she meets three men at a Scottish bar who teach her a neat trick: the ability to transfer her pain to others. A woman in pain won’t be believed, so why not act out? Why not hurt others to free yourself? The book embraces these ideas in a wonderfully witchy (and Shakespeare-infused) way.
Animal by Lisa Taddeo
After losing her parents at a young age, Joan has spent her life pursuing men. Especially the married, rich men that serve as father figures. She trades her youthful looks, her body, her emotional labor, for a sense of protection and care. But as she ages, things grow desperate.
When one of the delusional married men kills himself in front of her, she flees. And in California, she discovers her dormant, lifelong rage at men is demanding to come out. This is an intensely deep and nuanced look at a woman who defines herself with men and against women. But with age, with the withering of all her tools of youth, she accesses both a murderous anger and a shocking capacity to love. And with both, she’ll never cede the floor.