With summer in full swing, readers from the beach, pool and hammock have devoured literary fare ranging from secretive thrillers starring globetrotting spies to melodramatic romances with sexy starlets and misunderstood teens.
Yet only rarely will any of these books – from summer or any season – feature older adult protagonists.
And Marci Nault doesn’t know why.
Nault is the Sacramento-based author of “The Lake House,” which weaves the stories of two women from very different generations – a successful yet dissatisfied 30’s author of the syndicated “Solo Female Traveler” column, and a mid-70’s former Hollywood actress steeped in the wisdom gained from a lifetime of hard-knock lessons.
Published by an imprint of literary giant Simon & Schuster, Nault’s debut novel was included in the Chicago Tribune’s recommended summer reading list – shared with Stephen King – under the heading “As breezy as a bike ride on the Lake Shore path.”
Just as important as Nault’s two female protagonists is the fictional town of Nagog, Massachusetts and its long-time inhabitants – most over 70 – who still plan for exciting futures while remaining rooted firmly in values from World War II’s Greatest Generation.
“When I decided to write ‘The Lake House’ I wanted to show the older characters as lively and not willing to go lightly into the old age that the world might enforce on them,” says Nault, 40.
Nault based “The Lake House” on her own experiences in the Massachusetts towns of Acton and Littleton, and the inspiring elders she shared summers with. For her, writing a story centering largely on older adults was not only natural, but out of her control.
“It’s always what the muse tells me,” smiles Nault.
In her childhood, Nault would visit her maternal grandparents nearly every weekend. And they would tell her stories.
“Those stories mattered to me because I felt like they were my stories.”
Today, Nault continues to be inspired by older adult role models. Her first ice skating coach — in his 60’s – once performed a double-jump and dared her to do the same.
“Why can’t you do that?” he taunted Nault, 30 years his junior.
“I have incredible role models in my life who are 60 and up, many in their 70’s who still figure skate, hike, take up ballet, have huge gardens, and live their life very fully,” she says. “Though their bodies might not do what they did at 20, their minds are still very young and they’re not willing to sit down and say, ‘Well, I’m older now so life is over.’”
Nault’s observations are supported by researchers like Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity, who says the despair of aging is wildly exaggerated. She cites plentiful research that older adults are happier than when in adolescence through middle age.
These same observations are clearly evident in “The Lake House.” The aging characters don’t struggle with arthritis, wait for their children to call, or whine about getting old.
Instead, they have rich emotional lives, desire old-fashioned romance, and still dream about life’s possibilities.
While the novel is aimed like Cupid’s arrow directly at women, its lessons about aging are universal.
“Marci writes about unlikely friendships between younger women trying to figure it out, and older women who have perspective on what they wish they could tell their younger selves,” says Nault’s agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell.
Gendell, of Foundry Literary + Media in New York City, recalls the moment she was introduced to “The Lake House.”
“I had a colleague walk into my office weeping and said ‘I love this story,’” she recalls. “Anyone who can make a hardening publishing professional cry, I’ve got to know.”
Nault says in today’s publishing world there’s a tacit agreement between publishers and writers: older adults simply aren’t a sexy target demographic.
“It’s not even conscious,” says Nault. “There are not a whole lot of books that focus on older people.”
Even her own publisher – Gallery Books – made no special efforts to reach older adult readers, she admits, simply promoting it through traditional media channels to all ages.
Despite this, older adult readers have been finding the novel.
One such organization is The Red Hat Society, an international sisterhood of 70,000 women 50 and over that act as peer mentors for one other to celebrate aging that is vibrant, healthy and fun.
Debra Granich says Nault’s book came highly recommended by several members because it shows older women as multi-faceted.
“We’re more than senior citizens now. (We’re) jumping out of planes and going back to school,” says Granich, the society’s CEO. “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you don’t get to participate in society.”
Nault will address the society’s members in September.
“It’s been older people contacting me that have found the book,” says Nault, citing this feedback: “’You made me think that love is possible,’ and ‘Thank you for showing us as people who still think and feel as if we’re in our 30’s.’”
In today’s youth-obsessed world, Nault says the experience of aging offers several eternal truths: slow down, value time, and be yourself.
“Our society is so fearful of aging, but I don’t understand why,” she says. “I believe love can happen at any age and I really wanted to write a story about a generation that I feel was one of the greatest to live and that still has so much to teach us when it comes to what really matters in life.”