A Walk on the Beach by Joan Anderson
This is a follow up to Joan Anderson’s previous memoir A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, where in middle age Joan takes a year out of her marriage to live by herself on the New England coast. This book looks more deeply at the friendship she developed during that year with an extraordinary older woman.
Psychology fans might be aware of the work of Erik Erikson. Though he plays a minor role in this memoir, the pivotal friendship in this story is between the author and Erik’s wife, Joan (yes the two main characters of this true life tale have the same name but the author deals with the potential confusion well). A psychologist in her own right, the Eriksons collaborated on the body of work that became their reinterpretation of Freud’s life stages.
The memoir is largely about two distinctive generational experiences, that of middle age and old age. Anderson’s memoir is set in her early fifties when she met the remarkable Joan Erikson, forty years her senior. The book is also about our ability to reshape and redefine ourselves at any age and the dangers of stagnation if we refuse to adapt and grow.
Though I personally had some difficulties relating to the author’s plight, it’s likely to resonate with any woman who struggles with defining her role in life once children have left home, whether she’s in or out of a long relationship.
Joan Erikson’s wisdom that is woven through the memoir provides a role model for us all once middle age has sailed and we’re well and truly elderly. The documenting of her quest to add a ninth life stage to the Eriksonian model is full of wisdom, expressing both the frustrations and joys of embracing and living with the inevitability of death.
The format of a memoir provides an accessible vehicle to cover such serious topics. Anderson processes and conveys the Erikson philosophy in an easy manner, without diminishing the weight of the concepts. Yet the heart of the memoir remains one of friendship, fun and discovery.
This is the perfect memoir to read if you’re over forty and struggling with your role in life, or if you’re stuck or fearful about growing old. There are many gems sprinkled throughout the book, especially towards the end. It’s a remarkably easy and light read, despite the psychological narrative.