Book review: Suddenly Single at Sixty, Jo Peck

A splendid and heartfelt response to the oldest cliché in the book – the husband who leaves the writer for a much younger woman.
Suddenly Single at Sixty. Image on left is black and white head and shoulders shot of a 60-something Caucasian blonde woman with short wavy hair. She is smiling. On the right is a yellow book cover with an illustration of a hand holding a glass of sparkling wine.

If you are a woman of a certain age (around the six-decade mark, in fact), Jo Peck’s memoir will be one that you may well want to share far and wide. The Melbourne-based ad agency co-founder and writer has produced an enjoyable and very relatable memoir, albeit one that holds few surprises.

Indeed, the content is all there in that jauntily alliterative title. After a 25-year marriage, two weeks after their silver wedding anniversary and a month after her 60th birthday, Peck’s husband “Rex” (it’s unclear how many names have been changed to protect the not-so innocent) dumps her for a much younger woman. A much younger, supposedly “wouldn’t say boo to a goose” woman called “Anna”, who is a mutual acquaintance of both of them.

Except, of course, Anna is now no longer a mere acquaintance of Rex’s; she’s his new other half. Utterly blindsided, Peck traverses all the seven stages of grief through the break-up, while moving out of the home she has put together and for which she has been the major breadwinner for years.

Then she has to do the Fred Astaire dance – pick herself up, dust herself off and start all over again. That means finding alternative accommodation, leaning on the friends who have taken her side in the equation, taking stock of her situation, getting therapy and then, eventually, starting to examine the marriage through a more objective lens and discovering that, surprise surprise, it may not have been the healthiest of relationships all along.

And, once she’s sufficiently back on an even keel, she discovers there are plenty of other poissons in the pool. She also finds that, initial wariness aside, some of them may even be swimming around quite happily in the less murky than expected waters of the dating apps.

To be honest, some of the descriptive passages here may strike readers as a little TMI*, but other readers will no doubt lap them up (if that’s not too awkward an image in this context).

There’s not much more to say about the trajectory of the book, as it really is a tale as old as time (thank you, Angela Lansbury). And if you don’t have at least a dozen women in your contact list who have experienced something very similar to Peck… well, then you’re clearly not the woman of a certain age mentioned in the first paragraph above.

Though don’t let that stop you – younger women may also pick up plenty of useful advice from such a candid reflection. Forewarned is forearmed, they say, and Peck’s unfortunate marital experiences could be a very useful guide to both red flags and working out what you are, and are not, prepared to tolerate in any future relationship.

It is very probably a book that will find its audience to be largely of the yin rather than the yang persuasion, but any open-hearted soul out there may also enjoy such a clear-eyed journey into the hidden nooks and crannies of this particular sexagenarian’s heart and mind.

Read: Book review: Gone, Glenna Thomson

And of course it’s all in the telling. Peck is a generous, considered and honest raconteur. She shares all of herself and she does it with brio, humour and warmth. She also has the breezy and oh so readable writing skills of someone who has spent a career knowing how to string two words together to make the person reading them want more… more of the product, more of the revelations and more of the wisdom she has gained in the process.

And that “Rex” fellow? She’s well rid of him.

* too much information

Suddenly Single at Sixty, Jo Peck
Publisher: Text Publishing

ISBN: 9781923058064
Pages: 262pp
Format: paperback
Publication Date: 30 April 2024

RRP: $36.99

Madeleine Swain is ArtsHub’s managing editor. Originally from England where she trained as an actor, she has over 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor and film reviewer in print, television, radio and online. She is also currently Vice Chair of JOY Media.