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A Widow's Story: A Memoirby Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates has never been one to shy away from difficult topics. So, when her husband of 47 years unexpectedly died in 2008, she naturally chose to write about her devastating loss. Every bit as moving and heartfelt as Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking, A Widow's Story is Oates at her most powerful.
"Grief is an overpowering, devastating illness, and if it had evolved in the species as terminal, homo sapiens would have stubbed itself out long ago from the rapid-cycling sensations of drowning, burning, suffocating and going mad. That righteous smackdown is grief's universal. But as with everything else, the drama rests in the particulars, and a rising tide of such stories appears destined for its own shelf at Powell's: Great Women Writers Contemplate Widowhood." Anne Saker, The Oregonian (Read the entire Oregonian review)
Synopses & Reviews
On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray died from a virulent hospital-acquired infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced—totally unprepared — with the stunning reality of widowhood.
A Widow's Story illuminates one woman's struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of "death-duties," and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief — the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous "pools" of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow's desperation — only gradually yielding to the recognition that "this is my life now."
Enlivened by the piercing vision, acute perception, and mordant humor that are the hallmarks of the work of Joyce Carol Oates, this moving tale of life and death, love and grief, offers a candid, never-before-glimpsed view of the acclaimed author and fiercely private woman.
"Early one morning in February 2008, Oates drove her husband, Raymond Smith, to the Princeton Medical Center where he was admitted with pneumonia. There, he developed a virulent opportunistic infection and died just one week later. Suddenly and unexpectedly alone, Oates staggered through her days and nights trying desperately just to survive Smith's death and the terrifying loneliness that his death brought. In her typically probing fashion, Oates navigates her way through the choppy waters of widowhood, at first refusing to accept her new identity as a widow. She wonders if there is a perspective from which the widow's grief is sheer vanity, this pretense that one's loss is so very special that there has never been a loss quite like it. In the end, Oates finds meaning, much like many of Tolstoy's characters, in the small acts that make up and sustain ordinary life. When she finds an earring she thought she'd lost in a garbage can that raccoons have overturned, she reflects, 'If I have lost the meaning of my life, and the love of my life, I might still find small treasured things amid the spilled and pilfered trash.' At times overly self-conscious, Oates nevertheless shines a bright light in every corner in her soul-searing memoir of widowhood. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"In a narrative as searing as the best of her fiction, Oates describes the aftermath of her husband Ray's unexpected death from pneumonia…It’s the painful, scorchingly angry journey of a woman struggling to live in a house "from which meaning has departed, like air leaking from a balloon." Entertainment Weekly
"Astonishing…revelatory…[A Widow’s Story] is remarkable…for how candidly Oates explores the writer’s secret life: the private world of her marriage, which…she asserts is far truer and more real, and of far greater importance, than any of her imaginary creations." Book Forum
"[Oates] shines a bright light in every corner in her soul-searing memoir of widowhood." Publishers Weekly
"Flourishes of black humor punctuate the drumbeat of grief, setting the book apart from works such as Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking." Kirkus
Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before, A Widows Story is the universally acclaimed authors poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-six years, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath. A recent recipient of National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates, whose novels (Blonde, The Gravediggers Daughter, Little Bird of Heaven, etc.) rank among the very finest in contemporary American fiction, offers an achingly personal story of love and loss. A Widows Story is a literary memoir on a par with The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Calvin Trillins About Alice.
About the Author
Joyce Carol Oates has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde (a finalist for the National Book Award), and the New York Times bestsellers The Falls (winner of the 2005 Prix Femina) and The Gravedigger's Daughter.
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