Lovely Little Shelf

Review: A Widow’s Story


The Book: A Widow’s Story, by Joyce Carol Oates

The Story: (From Goodreads):Oates’s deeply personal and intimate memoir–unlike anything she’s written before–about the unexpected death of her husband of 40 years, Raymond Smith, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath.

What I Thought: I know that I told you guys a little bit about my NaNo experience last year: Writing a novel in a month and all that. It really was so incredible and I feel really glad that I did it. The plot of my novel and my reasons for writing it, however, I wonder if I shared with you. My novel is about a woman whose husband dies suddenly and she is left, several years later, still picking up the pieces. I wrote it because becoming a widow at a young age (or an old age or… ever…ugh. I can’t talk about it.) is my number one biggest fear. I decided going into the novel that I was just going to write through it… just take these fears that I’ve had floating around since we got married and get them all out on paper. It was therapeutic in a way, but also took me to a level of grief that I’ve rarely experienced.

I think that I picked up this book for the exact same reason, just this morbid curiosity about something that absolutely terrifies me.

Joyce Carol Oates’ situation was different than what I wrote and even what I’ve based this huge fear around. The big difference is that she was older. She was 70 and her husband was 78 and they had been married for a long, long time. For some reason that has rarely played into my imagination for a few reasons, only one of which being that I cannot yet imagine being old or being married that long… but still, same idea. She’s totally in love with this man, structures her life around him and then in a blink… he’s gone. It’s so sad and true and horrifying and… just everything.

I read a book a couple of years ago written by a widow- same general premise- and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called. I know that in my review I said that I couldn’t give it a positive review because even through her grief, I had a hard time connecting with her- I had a hard time seeing her relationship, her life as something real.

To put it very mildly, that is not a problem here. I immediately “got” where Joyce Carol Oates was coming from, found myself in her shoes and cried (sobbed) with her as she went through about a zillion stages of grief all at once, all the time. There was something so powerful about her taking her craft, her art, her skill and just spilling her guts out… oh, man. I was right there with her.

Even beyond her grief, I loved having this inside look to her marriage. These were often the most poignant parts of the book because you know, from page one, how it all ends.

Can I confess, though, that when I found out she married less than a year after the death of her husband, I almost felt cheated? I know that people just need a companion and I’m happy that she found that, but I was almost shocked that she could recover from it all that quickly and fall in love/get married again. I’m not sure if that’s wrong of me, but it did taint the book a bit for me.

Conclusion: This one will rip your guts out, but is a great read. I would recommend with caution.


  1. Posted May 8, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    As you know, this fear is one of my own. I’m not a huge JCO fan, but I’m thinking I will have to read this one if only for the topic alone.

    And, I hear you on the married soon after. Brett and I talk a lot about hoping the other one could find happiness in the future should one of us die…but a year seems awfully soon to me.

    Was the other book you read this one:

    I wasn’t a big fan of it myself, but it was still the first book that came to mind.

  2. Posted May 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Yes! That’s the one!

  3. Posted May 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had this one on my shelf for a while. I loved The Year of Magical Thinking, but it took me a while to get through it because it was such an emotionally difficult read. Since this one is twice as long, I’ve been hesitant to start it.

  4. Posted May 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    This one sounds absolutely heart breaking, but her writing is so good! I think writing about this topic is a great way to face and process your fear!