Book Reviews

Book Review No. 20: THIS STRANGE VISIBLE AIR, by Sharon Butala

“The trick is growing up without growing old.” – Casey Stengel

“The trick is growing up without growing old.” – Casey Stengel




I have to be honest with you, Sharon Butala’s new book, This Strange Visible Air, (Freehand Books, September 2021), is not the easiest of reads. But then, the subject she writes about – aging- with all of its ramifications and its ‘getting closer every day’ timeline, isn’t an easy topic to digest.

The author of 19 novels and nonfiction books, Sharon is a three-time Governor General’s Literary Award nominee, the recipient of the Marian Engel Award, (1998), and an officer of the Order of Canada.

And so she knows a thing or two about both writing and living life on life’s terms, which to Sharon means embracing life with wit and biting humour. All of this experience is exemplified in Sharon’s masterful writing, which is wrapped in metaphoric imagery and poignant observations.

In This Strange Visible Air, Sharon rescripts her life as she settles into her new apartment in Calgary, where she has moved to from the grasslands of southern Saskatchewan, (she had lived there for thirty-three years), after the loss of her husband.

While initially lured by the city’s ‘glimmering faintly on the horizon’ life, one which included art galleries, concert halls, professional theatre, like-minded friends, and such, what Sharon is unaware of is that she “was soon to be old, or what being old would mean to my dreams and desire. While dreading old age with every fibre, I was at the same time in full denial that it would ever happen to me, and, so, was shocked down to the soles of my feet when it did.”

With wry and sardonic wit, Sharon shares with us, the readers, the propensity at a certain age to jump to conclusions at the mere hint of health problems. Of the mind to let sleeping dogs lie, she counts on “being dead before the real horrors [of aging] get the chance to hit.”

As the days and weeks in her new Calgary life roll out, in order to combat the increasing and debilitating loneliness, as well as adjust to the challenges of being a widow – and growing old – Sharon begins the process of reconnecting with old friends and family members whom she hadn’t seen much of whilst living on her ranch in the wilds of Saskatchewan. 

After a spate of dinners and lively conversations with friends, Sharon says, “These thoughts cure me for the moment, [of my own loneliness] but let my guard down and there it is again, like the mangy grey coyote that shadows me everywhere I go, and lies, forgotten by me, at my feet under the table.  Nonetheless, I know that the moment the door latch clicks behind her that coyote will crawl from under the table and rub against my leg once more.”

What worries around aging wake you up in the middle of the night with answers not readily available?


Find some ideas and some solace by attending CREATIVE AGING BOOKS & IDEAS

FREE interactive spotlight chat with Sharon Butala this Thursday, at 2p.m. REGISTER HERE

Solutions that have helped Sharon toward living her best life include a renewed bonding with nature, which has reinvigorated and filled her with relief and delight.

“In nature, we feel the joy and the grief contained in remembering once again who we are.”

The importance of friendships, making them, sustaining them, nurturing them, is particularly high on Sharon’s list of the important things that contribute to one’s well-being.

“How many times have I heard or read older women saying that their friends are the most important people in their lives, that without friends they don’t know how they would have survived.”

(Quick aside- if that doesn’t sound like a girls getaway is a must-do-right-now-action-plan, I don’t know what is).

The discussion around aging is not a hypothetical one, my friends, nor is it one that discriminates or plays favourites. None of us – no matter how much money or material acquisitions we have – can avoid it. We can’t buy our way out, or hide in the ally with Sally. So it behooves us to embrace the topic of aging, rather than turning a blind eye to its realities. (Although truth be told, aging does produce some lack of vision…but I digress).


Join Creative Aging Books & Ideas this Thursday, October 28th at as ‘we’ pull back the proverbial layers, (albeit of a crepey nature), and see how we can do better around helping ourselves, (and each other), live with purpose, joy, friendship, intent and humour, while mitigating the depression inherent in loneliness and fear.  Register here

Of course, like everything in life, how things turn out – especially during times of major life challenges, whether they be physical or emotional – comes down to one resonant factor: ATTITUDE.

A devotee of living with a positive attitude – even as it relates to aging- is best encapsulated by English actress Glenda Jackson. “I look forward to growing old and wise and audacious.”

Note the emphasis on audacious?

Let’s face it, friends, there’s no better time than the present… to be present.


FREE interactive spotlight chat with Sharon Butala this

Thursday, at 2 p.m. REGISTER

…And make a plan for yourself around living life with renewed purpose, vigour and dare I say it…..Fun, humour, and more Fun!

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