16056243Writer Marion Winik has ridiculously bad taste in men. She’s an intelligent woman and a terrific writer, a good mom with a good heart, and ALL of her romantic relationships are train wrecks.

Winik recounts her quest for love at age 50 in her new book, Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living, and no matter how tumultuous or misguided your own love life has been, she’ll put you to shame.

The healthiest relationship she describes is with first husband, Tony, who, when they met, was a  “penniless gay bartender who had recently lost his job as an ice-skating coach due to his drug problem.”

Winik fell hard for this guy. Why? “Having a beautiful gay man change his life to be with me was like getting the Nobel Prize for lovability,” she explains. Plus, the man could  “cook, bartend, devise and execute wall treatments, garden, iron, arrange flowers, set a perfect table and professionally cut and color my hair.”

That almost made me want to marry a gay guy myself.

They got hitched, had two sons, enjoyed some good years and endured some bad ones, before Winik’s husband died of AIDS.

And, romantically, it’s all been downhill from there.

Winik, to be sure, brings her own challenges to the romantic table. She describes herself, in a self-deprecating moment, as “an alcoholic, manic-depressive slut.” She’s also an ex-junkie. And she smokes.

But she writes like an angel. (With a wicked sense of humor.)

Winik, who has published nine books, makes a good living writing about her unconventional life. She writes for The New York Times, she’s a regular on All Things Considered, she blogs for Baltimore Fishbowl.com, she’s a professor at the University of Baltimore’s MFA program, and she’s been on the Today show, Politically Incorrect, and Oprah.

Solid career success hasn’t stopped her from establishing a track record, in her personal life, of passing up great guys to throw herself at losers.

Some women enjoy being courted over a quiet, candlelit dinner. Winik goes for edgier stuff. A typical seduction? “He led me to a floodlit, garbage-swept concrete parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence . . . with no further preliminaries, a furious make-out session was in progress.”

Winik, it turns out, is a woman in her 50s who dates like a hormone-drunk teenager. She may be looking for love. But what she finds, instead, are thrills. And when she finds them, she shares every juicy, peculiar, hilarious, and humiliating detail with her readers.

I hate to see a smart woman make a foolish choice, and yet I loved this book. Why? I’m a sucker for a good sentence, and Winik couldn’t pen a boring line if she tried. Her love life may be a mess, but it’s great material, and she makes the most of it.

She describes swapping spit with, among others, a construction worker who beds her only to hit her up for cash; a young ex-student who already has an age-appropriate girlfriend; her own second husband, years after their acrimonious divorce; and a dude whose personal ad claimed he’d only ever been with two women— his ex-wife and her best friend.

Winik thought he was joking. He wasn’t. 

Ironically, while all this was going on, Winik was writing an advice column for a national magazine. 

Fans of Winik’s earlier books know that she’s not only an engaging writer but a good mom and a good friend. She deserves to find a great guy! But it’s clear to the reader of this new volume that the chances of that happening are slim. (One hint: the book is dedicated, not to a dude, but to that ever-reliable bed partner, her miniature dachshund.) Still, you keeping hoping that this clever chick with the appalling blind spot when it comes to sussing out good guys will finally come to her senses and fall for a mensch.

There’s a touch of schadenfreude in the pleasure you get from this book. (Not to mention a heap of comfort for those of us whose own romantic choices have been less than fabulous.) It’s fun to watch someone else screw up, as long as it’s played for laughs. (I Love Lucy, anyone?)

And if there’s one thing Winik excels at, it’s laughing at herself. 

She’s not afraid to play the fool. And she shares everything, from her Match.com profile  (“Sassy, sensual and smart”) to the absolute wrong way to seduce a gay guy (“I sexted him a picture of me lying on the couch in my bikini underpants.”)

We’ve got front-row seats to even the most embarrassing encounter.

And yet, as the writer who chronicles these events, it’s Winik herself who has the last laugh. She let her bad dates fact-check “their” chapters prior to publication, and she’s changed a few names, but she’s retained the power to present her life as she sees fit. 

The key to Winik’s continued success is that she’s, ultimately, so likeable.You wince at her mistakes and despair at her decisions, but you can’t help rooting for her, despite the fact that she can’t stop leading with her libido, and seems never to have met a Stupid Choice she didn’t want to make out with in a midnight parking lot.  

But then, she isn’t really looking for Mr. Right. What she’s seeking is a man  whose kisses will make her forget all reason.

And when she finds him, thankfully, we can rely on her to tell us all about it.

 

Join the conversation

  • terralee October 9, 2013 at 9:31 am

    A little late here, but I wonder what her sons’ lives were like living with their self-described “alcoholic, manic-depressive slut” mom who was also an ex-junkie. Unless she did all this stuff after they grew up and were out of the house, there are others affected by these dysfunctional behaviors, so for their sake, I hope they were grown and out of the house.

    Sorry to be so judgemental but I’ve had friends like Winik – it makes for charming, funny stories but the kids always suffer, even if they seem remarkably adjusted on the surface.

    Reply
  • Kelly October 7, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    sounds like a super interesting books, and person!

    Reply
  • Libby Martin October 6, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Winik has nothing on her reviewer. I bought the book based on Ms Warren’s way with words.

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  • hillsmom October 6, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Curse you Roz Warren! (not really, but sounded good) for another witty recommendation. You have also caused me to “waste” more time reading her columns from the link provided. So she’s on the list along with more Elinor Lipman also from you. In the meantime, the cat fur is rolling across the floor more like tumbleweeds while the vacuum languishes, and I read on.

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  • Joan Price October 5, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Good review — sassy and fun. I want to read this book!

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  • Judy Hartstone October 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Would that I could write as well as Warren or Winik, for I certainly have a tragi-comedic romantic history, including some outrageous episodes that no one should have to live through and which would be too embarrassing to disclose.

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  • Marion Winik October 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Honestly I don’t know which is more incredible to me – the idea that I did these things in order to write about them, or that I made the whole thing up. I don’t know exactly why I am the way I am — both in the living of my life and the writing about it — but this review gives a very clear picture of it. So, um… what she said.

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  • barbara holmes October 5, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Of course, there is a plot. Those incidents that Winik chose to include in her book become a plot–once woven together into a narrative. Hackneyed couldn’t be a better description for the scenarios described in your review.

    I am sorry if you took offense to my critique (not criticism.) Trust me, the writing is pedestrian in both cases, yours and Ms. Winik’s. I suspect that this may come from trying too hard to appeal to a specific demographic, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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  • mark Lowe October 5, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Wonderful!

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  • Toni Myers October 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Oh, but I love Winik just from your review.
    She makes us laugh at the vagaries of life, what better calling? Thanks

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  • Roz Warren October 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Pedestrian writing? Are slamming me or to Winik? Either way, I’m sorry you feel this way but I certainly don’t agree with you. I think both of us are pretty damn good at what we do.

    And “hackneyed plots?” This is a book review. And Winik is writing about her life. In neither case is there a plot.

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  • barbara holmes October 5, 2013 at 11:24 am

    This is just more of the same…pedestrian writing and hackneyed plots. RIP Nora Ephron!

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  • Suzanne MacAaron October 5, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Sorry for the double entry above. My computer, acting up again but I stand by my statements. Did enjoy the article.

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  • Suzanne MacAaron October 5, 2013 at 11:02 am

    It could make a movie along the lines of the current romcoms in their slightly gross fashion. Could be a hit or a bomb depending on the writing, the star and the ick factor.

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  • Suzanne MacAaron October 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

    It could make a hit movie along the lines of the romcoms that seem to be so popular now. It could be very, very funny or a total bomb,depending on the writing, the star and the gross-out factor.

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  • Stacia Friedman October 5, 2013 at 10:37 am

    For decades, friends have been encouraging me to write about my love life. Thank God, I didn’t listen to them and Winik did it for me – and for ALL of us gladiators of Love Gone Horribly Wrong.

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  • Stephen October 5, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Better question – do you think she makes all this stuff up? Hard to find it credible that anyone could be such an emotional moron!

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  • Roz Warren October 5, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Good question, Emily. I’ve been a fan of Winik’s work for many years, and I think she’s essentially too honest a person to live that way.

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  • Emily Kelting October 5, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Do you think Winik makes these bad romantic choices to have fodder for her writing ?I do know writers, not you, Roz, who live life as potential “material”, not just bumbling along making the best choices we can at the time. I think there is a difference. Not that it really matters, I guess, if the end result is a good story.

    Reply