Now available in paperback, the entrancing story of how one woman's journey of selfdiscovery gave her the courage to persevere in recreating her lifeLife is a work in progress, as everchanging as a sandy shoreline along the beach During the years Joan Anderson was a loving wife and supportive mother, she had slowly and unconsciously replaced her own dreams with the needs of her family With her sons grown, however, she realized that the family no longer centered on the home she provided, and her relationship with her husband had become stagnant Like many women in her situation, Joan realized that she had neglected to nurture herself and, worse, to envision fulfilling goals for her future As her husband received a wonderful job opportunity outofstate, it seemed that the best part of her own life was finished Shocking both of them, she refused to follow him to his new job and decided to retreat to a family cottage on Cape CodAt first casting about for direction, Joan soon began to take pleasure in her surroundings and call on resources she didn't realize she had Over the course of a year, she gradually discovered that her life as an unfinished woman was full of possibilities Out of that magical, difficult, transformative year came A Year by the Sea, a record of her experiences and a treasury of wisdom for readersThis year of selfdiscovery brought about extraordinary changes in the author's life The steps that Joan took to revitalize herself and rediscover her potential have helped thousands of woman reveal and release untapped resources within themselves


10 thoughts on “A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman

  1. Leah Leah says:

    This is a tough book to rate. I rarely review books, but I felt that I needed to get this one off my chest.

    I gave it one less than 5 stars because I have an aversion to the cult of self. The premise of a woman leaving her husband to discover herself made me uneasy and skeptical. Self-discovery is important, self-worship is not. I feel that she often slipped from redemptive moments involving lessons about who she is and who she needs to be... to damning moments in which she embraced her errors and woman-ness as a liberation from responsibility and reconciliation.

    The beauty of this fluctuation lies in the fact that they separated and did not divorce, making the book a happy ending where both rediscover that life necessitates liveliness but not at the exclusion of community. If her life story ended in divorce, I would have given this book 2 stars.. not because of the divorce itself but because the marriage would be replaced by self-importance. Naturally when a woman finds herself naked and swimming with seals she has a bloated sense of happiness. In just the same way that a new romance has speed and passion and hypercolor, the romance of drinking wine by the sea and allowing oneself to be spontaneous and with few responsibilities (her husband still pays for most of her year-long adventure alone with very little credit or appreciation) is an emotional high that promises to last but that has never been designed to have staying power.

    It also got one less than 5 stars because she hit me over the head with metaphor after metaphor after metaphor. The writing is excellent at points and unbearably tedious at others. Her chapter dedicated to her night before she and her husband reunited.. the night that she spent alone on a deserted beach.. was difficult to trudge through. (If she were to write my last sentence, she'd say, That chapter of my life was difficult to trudge through, like feet sinking into the sand, slowing every moment, every moment demanding to be taken in with the greatest care and concentration. -- but then, I'm putting words into her mouth.)

    Nevertheless, I gave the book one more than 3 stars because it is a book I won't soon forget. I was appalled at how many faults the two of us share, as well. I think that I learned some good things from her memoir.. hopefully learning from her mistakes so that I don't make them myself.

    I would recommend this book, but with caution. If you can manage to not be wooed by the tearing apart of relationships and still embrace the need of married people to be independent, read away. Every memoir should be carefully scrutinized, separating the wheat from the chaff.


  2. Rebecca Rebecca says:

    To coin a genre, I’d call this a Feminist-Midlife-Marriage-Nature Memoir. I recommend it to readers of May Sarton because of the solitude theme, which often has an almost spiritual aspect to it. There is a sense that the author is on a pilgrimage or retreat, and the natural setting is in some way the key to healing.

    When her husband moved for work, Joan Anderson decided not to go with him but instead to retreat to their Cape Cod cottage for a year and work on figuring out what she really wanted from life now that she had reached middle age. “Boy, have I ever allowed too many days to go dull and permitted too many parts of me to go unused.” Yet money was a serious problem, forcing her into the world of menial labor. She worked at a fish market, went clamming, and even cooked for her nephew’s entire film crew – all things she never would have considered earlier in life. As much as she relished her new freedom, she had a pang of guilt whenever she thought about her husband:

    I feel naughty, even bad. The one who leaves is always wrong, while the other partner, who passively goes along, gets all the sympathy. Most men, I’ve noticed, are reluctant to walk out. They may want out of their marriage, but set it up so the wife actually does the walking.

    Each month of this transformative year gets its own chapter. Throughout water and tide metaphors are used to connect with the seasons as well as with female sexuality. Anderson passed a surprisingly pleasant Christmas with her husband and two adult sons. She also made a friend who ended up being more like a guru: Joan Erikson, octogenarian widow of Erik Erikson (a famous psychoanalyst). “Every woman should have a mentor,” Anderson believes, “not her mother, but someone who doesn’t have a stake in how she turns out, who encourages her to risk, who picks her up when she falls flat on her face.”

    It’s a powerful vision of female solidarity, and I appreciated the womb-like atmosphere Anderson creates: a haven outside of time where she can stay while she repairs her psyche. As a Jungian analyst taught her, “Many of us would just as soon have our choices made for us, but the heroine, when at a juncture, makes her own choice—the nonheroine lets others make it for her.”

    At the end of the year, Anderson’s husband retired and joined her at the cottage. This was published in 1999 and followed by a sequel, An Unfinished Marriage, in 2002, which will tell what happened next and whether their reunion worked. I need to get hold of it soon.

    My free copy came from The Book Thing of Baltimore.


  3. Tamidel Tamidel says:

    Basically this book represents everything I hate about this genre: it's self-indulgent and, worse, self-pitying. Joan Anderson is fortunate enough to have the means to take an extended period of time off from her marriage and mid-life crisis to figure herself out, but the life lessons virtually slip past her as she wallows in the shoulda-couldas of her life until now. Her story in not at all unusual, nor, frankly, all that sad or interesting. And unlike Elizabeth Gilbert in EAT, PRAY, LOVE, who had the good fortune of not only taking a year off from a bad marriage and unknown future, but who also got to do so in exotic locales, Anderson never shows real growth or self-actualization. She relays her year in Cape Cod in little more than journal entries, without the a-ha! And unlike Gilbert, there is no humor nor flair for prose. In fact, the most enthralling character in her memoir is not HER, but Joan Erickson, the widow of famed pyschologist Erik Erickson. And it is Joan Erickson's wisdom that Anderson passes on to her readers, nothing that she has earned on her own. The subtitle of the book is: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman. She needs to keep working on that.


  4. Kate Kate says:

    Joan Anderson's husband came home to announce he'd received a wonderful job opportunity across country in Oregon and they were moving. Their two grown sons were married and living lives of their own, and nothing seemed to be tying the Andersons to their home.

    Joan shocked her husband and herself when she told him she refused to go and was instead moving to the family cottage on Cape Cod. Thus began a year in her life, living hand to mouth, on the banks of the Cape.

    The book was a little bit of A Gift from the Sea mingled with life experiences on the Cape. I haven't been to stay on the Cape since I was four years old (I think) and I have some vague, wonderful memories of the place which neatly jived with what Anderson wrote about. The book is a misty watercolor portrait of a popular summer place, but she writes so much of what happens in the off season, and it was enchanting.

    I really, really loved this book. It was like a warm cup of cocoa on a cold day. I loved how becoming her own person didn't necessarily mean that Joan couldn't find room in her heart to reconcile with her husband, but that they both needed the wake up call of separation to understand that their life couldn't be what it was before. Her own journey of self discovery gave me time to think about my life as a wife, a sister, a friend, and a human being, and who I am and who I want to be. It was great.


  5. Julie Ehlers Julie Ehlers says:

    I thought it was really interesting the way she drank every night. Even when she had to get a new boiler for her house and thus was really short on cash, she still always bought wine and drank it every night. She was living alone for the first time in decades and trying to figure out how to be her own person again, but she drank every night. I thought it was a bit counterproductive.

    Anyway, I really wish I could reproduce all my marginalia here so you could understand how ridiculous I thought this book was (not just because of the drinking, I must emphasize—that's just something that stands out for me months later). Instead I'll just let my rating speak for itself.


  6. Sally G. Sally G. says:

    Three friends and I recently read this book as a Book Club selection: and to a person, we were captured by it.

    This is not your typical Reflective Memoir Toward Personal Growth (is there even a 'typical' for this genre?). Two of us are more Self introspective, reflective, self-assessors -- and two of us are not. A book we'd all read together last year in a similar vein was deemed by two of us to be 'self-absorbed whining by women who aren't busy enough to find anything better to do'. We all walked away for THIS book feeling a little differently about our own lives ~ as though we'd spent time with a cherished and really honest friend. Two of us will be, at some point, continuing on with parts two (An Unfinished Marriage) and three (A Walk on the Beach).

    There were so many quotes I wanted to capture from this book; so many ideas, truths and recognitions.

    Takeaways for me? I am going to say YES more often. I will observe others vs manage them more often. I will try new things more, provide and pursue opportunity to impress myself more - and show up as fully and simply as possible, everywhere.

    I rated this book 10/10.


  7. Anne Anne says:

    HATED, HATED, HATED IT. If you really like books about whiney women who believe that providing love, food, shelter, clothing, and anything else that costs money does NOT mean you are providing for the family, you may like this. I wonder what a book about a man who suddenly leave his wife to find himself would be rated? Somehow, I think women would condemn a man who leaves his wife of 20+ years, so I don't understand why so many cheer this woman on. She keeps claiming to be independent during her year off, except she's not. She's still very much financially dependent on the husband she left. Let's see a book about a man who leaves his wife of 20+ years, but then still wants her to do the bulk of financially supporting him while he plays around, taking minimum wage jobs here and there, and laying around.


  8. Tania Tania says:

    I wanted to like this book. Truly, I wanted to love it. I just couldn't. I don't necessarily have a problem with needing a trial separation from one's spouse. I can see why Anderson would've been angry when her husband came home one day and just said, 'I took a job out of state. We're moving.' For him to just presume something like that and demand she come with him was not ok in my book.

    That said, Anderson's narration didn't feel honest. She didn't seem to acknowledge her part in the marital issues. She was trying to change the rules mid-game. It's no wonder her husband was flummoxed. I just prefer a flawed narrator to admit their flaws. Also, for a book that was supposed to be about self-discovery, she didn't come to any conclusions that are all that profound, or even useful.


  9. Linda Linda says:

    Book about how she and her husband have loss their connection over the years. She chooses to take a year off rom her marriage and goes to their home on Cape Cod. She rediscovers herself and in the process the relationship is rekindled. I love the descriptions of the location and the people she meets. Is is a simple life...what I am searching for. I know it is easy for women to lose themselves while being or trying to be everything for others. I plan to read her other books. This is a book I will read again!


  10. Bree Hill Bree Hill says:

    I don’t like rating memoirs..but I L O V E D this book.