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"Life isn't divided into genres. It's a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel."

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Widow for One Year

A Widow for One year is divided into two sections. The first depicts a watershed summer in the year of 1958. Ted and Marion Cole are grieving over the horrific deaths of their two teenage sons, whose presence is saturated in the sad household in the form of dozens of photographs. Their daughter, little 4-year-old Ruth Cole grows up surrounded by these memories, ignored by her mother and only mildly cared for by her absent, extramarital affair-loving author of a father. Enter Eddie O'Hare, who Ted hires as a writer's assistant. In this one summer, in the idyllic Long Island summer setting, a somewhat astonishing connection is forged between these four characters.
The second section portrays Ruth at 36 years of age. She is a successful writer and is about to be reconnected to that landmark summer in a series of often inconceivable situations.

I first read this book when I was about 19 or 20 years old. I enjoyed it then but categorized it with the other John Irvings I found to be "good, but not great." Boy, was I wrong. This is truly an extraordinary piece of written work. The detail in the storyline, the unerring connections that the fortunate reader can piece together, the heart, the soul, the symbolism, the humor, the tragedy. Just stunning. I think one of the most important messages this novel conveys is that what or who affects you as a child, can in turn affect the choices you make for yourself for the rest of your life. Sure, it may not be true of everyone, but I think it is so for most people. Irving expresses this in an exquisitely understated manner. And for that, I cherish him as one of my favorite writers of all time.

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