"I GREW UP IN A FAMILY AT A TIME when the only part of the American Dream people knew about was that everything can be achieved, not that it could be taken away," says Elizabeth Kaye, 50. "It was a safe, secure Philadelphia suburb where girls had sweet-16 parties, and that was the day you grew up." Kaye, the daughter of a pediatrician and stepdaughter of Broadway composer Burton Lane, fell under the spell of the "magic of words" early—"My mother loved writing and used to read me poetry"—and has kept journals since childhood. "This book," says Kaye, who lives in Manhattan with dance and drama critic Clive Barnes, "was a chance to recycle all those little bits of string that were too short for anything else."
What prompted your midlife crisis?
It was nothing that happened. It was about recognizing that—like it or not—once you are born, time moves one way. I didn't want the people I loved to age and die and leave me. I wanted to stop time. I didn't want things to be as they are, and that was the source of my despair.
What have you learned from writing this book?
That I'm not alone. I've heard from many people who feel this same sort of epic helplessness. It's the only binding truth we have, whether you're a part of the underclass, Lyle Menendez or Hillary Clinton. We're all in a time frame that's only moving forward.
Having survived your 40s, how are you living the second half?
Consciously. Once you've been in middle life a while, it no longer makes you sad. Instead, it makes you grateful.