Widow for One Year

Irving, John. A Widow For One Year. Read by George Guidall. New York: Random House Audio, 1998.

While meandering at times A Widow For One Year follows the life of Ruth Cole. In Part One it is 1958 and Ruth is only four years old. The plot doesn’t necessarily focus on Ruth at this point but rather on her Long Island parents – their endless grief over the accidental death of their teenage sons and the bitter end of their tumultuous marriage. Ruth’s father is a celebrated author of books for children, a closet alcoholic and a raging adulterer. He wants to divorce Ruth’s mother, Marion, but he first needs to make sure he’ll win the custody battle over Ruth. Given his drinking (he can’t even drive due to too many dui arrests) and sexual conquests outside the marriage he needs Marion to have an indiscretion of her own to level the playing field. Enter Eddie O’Hare, a sixteen year old high school student from Philips Exeter Academy. Ted hires Eddie to be his writing assistant for the summer but really Eddie is supposed to seduce Marion. It’s Eddie who I like the best in this part one. He plays the fool perfectly (oh, but what a sweet and pretty fool). Unwittingly he is a pawn for both Ted and Marion.
In Part Two Ruth, at thirty-six, is an accomplished writer living in New York. The section begins with the very same Eddie O’Hare. He is in town to introduce Ruth at one of her readings. While their paths cross only briefly at this point in the story Ruth is enlightened by Eddie’s memories of her mother. She begins to see her parent’s divorce in a whole new perspective. Before leaving for a European book tour Eddie gives Ruth a murder mystery he thinks was written by Marion. While in Amsterdam Ruth is witness to the murder of a window prostitute from the red light district.
This sets in motion Part Three which, in the beginning, focuses mostly on the murder of the prostitute from five years earlier. The lead chief inspector has a conundrum. While he was able to solve the murder he now wants to find the witness. The story jumps back fill in the story of the prostitute (which could have been a whole separate book). I don’t want to spoil the end except to say it’s nice that Irving brought the story full circle.

Favorite lines: “There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep” (p 151). Don’t you love the image of that? Another favorite line, “I appear to have an old disease to share” (p 324).

As an aside, Ruth’s attitude about her American fans reminded me of how Natalie Merchant reacts to autograph signings and picture taking with her American fans. Both Ruth and Natalie are more comfortable with their European fans.

Reason read: John Irving celebrates a birthday in March, on the 18th…or so I’ve read on LibraryThing.

Author fact: John Irving was not an author Nancy Peal included in her “Too Good to Miss” chapters. Too bad because he should have been. He has written some amazing stuff.

Book trivia: The 2004 film adaptation of A Widow For One Year was “A Door in the Floor.” Note to self: put this on my movie list.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 232). I think Pearl got it wrong. Yes, the wife is wayward but her situation is completely more understandable than her husband’s. I think her husband is despicable. But, another thing: the book isn’t really about the wayward wife or husband.



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