In Search of the Menopause Ranch
by Deborah Vaughn

Pisquale Productions, 2006. ISBN 978-0-97872-330-9.
Reviewed by Susan Andrus
Posted on 03/26/2008

Fiction: Mainstream

Although an idyllic setting encompasses the Menopause Ranch, life is less than idyllic for the characters who have been transported there by their spirit guides, Belladonna Morose and her associate, Mea Culpeppa. The guides' mission is to help each well-drawn character, each accompanied by some baggage from her past, recognize how to change herself in order to regain her Zest—the goal she had before she entered adolescence. As the characters became acquainted with each other and learned about themselves, with the author showing their quirky natures and vulnerabilities, I recognized that they could easily be typical neighbors, family or friends.

Kimberly, the main character, narrates her experience as a forty-five-year-old starting pre-menopause. Sarcastic, creative, compassionate, and capable of cleaning up other people's messes, Kimberly meets Norma, a child of alcoholic parents and former nun, who runs an antique store near Las Vegas. And Toby, an African-American dancer who gives it to you straight, adding humor to the events of each day at the ranch. There's also Beth, a counselor at a mental health center who glides right past a nervous breakdown because there's too much work for her to stop and take care of herself. A little more negativity comes from Jean—a rigid, judgmental business woman and born-again Christian who, while she finds the revelations at Menopause Ranch distressing, can't wait to get back to her business.

When Vaughn changed from Kimberly's first-person point of view to conversations between Belladonna and Mea about absent characters, I found it a bit confusing. This minor distraction might have been meant to demonstrate that the spirit guides were aware of everything, while others could only see the events from their own perspective.

In their experiences at Menopause Ranch, the women are challenged to transform a life-interfering experience like menopause into a life-challenging opportunity for growth. Included are well-researched facts about drugs, remedies, and treatments for menopause. I laughed, cried, got angry, and felt inspired as I read this book. I identified with the characters and thought about what I'm doing with the rest of my life. Even men should read this novel; mid-life crises happen to us all.

Deborah Vaughn attributes her straight-talking honesty to her Indiana roots. Her life as an aspiring actress on Broadway, a minion in the corporate jungle, and loving wife for twenty-three years has been an instructive detour. It was on a road trip with her sister where In Search of the Menopause Ranch was born with the message that every journey in life is unique and special, just like every woman. Parts of the journey may be unplanned and a bit bumpy, but by mid-life we have the skills, the talent and the guts to pave our own way.

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