Sunday, October 26, 2014
Book Review: A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Content alert: There may be some swearing, but none I remember. Very sad and emotionally taxing, though.
In February 2008, Joyce Carol Oates and her 77-year-old husband Raymond Smith thought they had years of devoted companionship ahead of them. Smith was still working as editor of The Ontario Review, and Oates was forging ahead as a professor at Princeton and one of the most celebrated and prolific authors in the United States. Then Raymond came down with pneumonia, and just when it seemed that he was getting better and would be transferred to a rehabilitation center, he died of a quick-moving, secondary infection. Oates was completely blindsided by her husband's death, and A Widow's Story is the account of that experience.
I'd like to explain my rating of A Widow's Story. This is a hard book to read. Oates writes very movingly of the last week of her husband's life, of their devotion to each other, and to her feelings of complete aloneness and anxiety in the weeks and months following his death. She hordes painkillers and sleeping pills and dreams about taking them to end it all. She seems unable to accomplish the simplest tasks, and is very (VERY) quick to find fault with everyone, including her closest friends. In other words, she's deep in grief mode. It's no fun to read a story that seems to go on, and on, and on about her frustrations and her pills. But I think that's what makes this book so important too. This is a story I don't know (I have read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking-- which was lighter, if you can believe it). I've never been a widow. Never lost anyone I was extremely close to, and especially never lost anyone unexpectedly. I am unacquainted with grief. So reading this book is really important for people like me, and probably you, to help us understand that grief doesn't end quickly and sometimes looks and acts totally illogical, but that it's also a great expression of love.