cover image The Red Zone: A Love Story

The Red Zone: A Love Story

Chloe Caldwell. Soft Skull, $16.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-59376-699-3

In this scintillating work, essayist Caldwell (Women) uses her menstrual cycle to explore her body and the complex narrative around women’s pain. When, in her mid-30s, Caldwell began experiencing frightening mood swings tied to her period, she recalls, “This didn’t feel like just PMS. It felt different. Dangerous.” On the receiving end of her volatility—which she later attributes to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a more acute form of PMS)—was Tony, a man Caldwell had recently begun dating. Caldwell recalls how, with Tony’s unflagging support (the two jokingly dubbed her PMS the “red zone”), she embarked on a mission to understand her period—“blood clots” and all—as well as societal stigmas that, for years, kept her remote from it. Weaving in research from PMS-themed Reddit threads (including one called “Werewolf Week”) and frank conversations with other women—who, like Caldwell, wrestled with “shame and secrecy” around their periods—she smartly blends the personal and cultural to confront the ways women’s suffering has been dismissed throughout history (in a 1946 Disney film about menstruation, Caldwell writes that PMS is summed up as “some girls have a little less pep”). The result gives a vibrant voice to a struggle that many have been taught to quietly shoulder alone. This is an audacious tribute to women everywhere. (Apr.)