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How to Talk to a Widower

How to Talk to a Widower

4.4 56
by Jonathan Tropper

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"Beautifully crafted", "Fantastically funny." "Compulsively readable." Jonathan Tropper has earned wild acclaim—-and comparisons to Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta—for his biting humor and insightful portrayals of families in crisis and men behaving badly. Now the acclaimed author of The Book of Joe and Everything


"Beautifully crafted", "Fantastically funny." "Compulsively readable." Jonathan Tropper has earned wild acclaim—-and comparisons to Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta—for his biting humor and insightful portrayals of families in crisis and men behaving badly. Now the acclaimed author of The Book of Joe and Everything Changes tackles love, lust, and lost in the suburbs—in a stunning novel that is by turns heartfelt and riotously funny.

Doug Parker is a widower at age twenty-nine, and in his quiet suburban town, that makes him something of a celebrity—the object of sympathy, curiosity, and, in some cases, unbridled desire. But Doug has other things on his mind. First there's his sixteen year-old stepson, Russ: a once-sweet kid who now is getting into increasingly serious trouble on a daily basis. Then there are Doug's sisters: his bossy twin, Clair, who's just left he husband and moved in with Doug, determined to rouse him from his Grieving stupor. And Debbie, who's engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and manically determined to pull off the perfect wedding at any cost.

Soon Doug's entire nuclear family is in his face. And when he starts dipping his toes into the shark-infested waters of the second-time around dating scene, it isn't long before his new life is spinning hopelessly out of control, cutting a harrowing and often hilarious swath of sexual missteps and escalating chaos across the suburban landscape.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A portrait of a modern guy in crisis, Tropper's third novel (Everything Changes; The Book of Joe) follows Doug Parker, whose life is frozen into place at 29 when Hailey, his wife of two years, is killed in a plane crash. Unable to leave the tony suburban house they once shared, he spends his days reliving their brief marriage from the moment he found her sobbing in his office over troubles with her first husband. At the same time, Doug's magazine column about grieving for his wife has made him irresistible to the media (book deals, television spots and the like are proffered) and to a wide array of women who find him "slim, sad and beautiful." Though stepson Russ is getting in trouble at school and Doug's pregnant twin sister, Claire, moves in, no amount of crying to strippers can keep Doug from the temptations of his best friend's wife or Russ's guidance counselor. Alternately flippant and sad, Tropper's book is a smart comedy of inappropriate behavior at an inopportune time. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Doug Parker is having a bad year. After the death of his wife in a plane crash, the 29-year-old freelance magazine writer withdraws from family and friends and rarely leaves the home he shared with his wife and stepson in the New Radford suburb of New York. There, he medicates with alcohol, produces a much-lauded monthly column about his grief, and wages war on a band of insurgent neighborhood rabbits. With his life in shambles and the specter of his dead wife haunting every waking thought, Doug struggles to hold off the world-his dysfunctional family, a nagging agent hoping to cash in on the success of his magazine column, and his troubled teenage stepson in need of a surrogate father figure-while he navigates an unfamiliar landscape of pain and hopelessness. Eric Ruben's sometimes uneven reading captures well the jarring moments when Doug's seemingly impenetrable self-absorption is pierced by genuine compassion for and understanding of those around him-most notably his stroke-afflicted father, his domineering mother, and his two sisters-all of whom conspire at different moments to draw him out of his paralyzing grief. Ruben also deftly handles Doug's sexual misadventures with the right combination of passion, humor, and despair, as the wounded and irresistible widower agonizes over his longing for his dead wife and his growing need for companionship and love. Recommended for all general fiction collections.
—Philip Bader

Kirkus Reviews
Bereft hipster stuck in suburbia struggles to rejoin the world of the living after losing his wife in a plane crash. In a full-on retreat from human contact, 29-year-old Doug Parker passes the year following the death of his wife of two years in a numb Jack Daniel's-fueled haze. An anomaly in the upper-middle-class town of New Radford, the freelance writer only moved there to be with Hailey, a divorcee ten years his senior. Doug copes with the loss through his popular monthly "How to Talk to a Widower" magazine column, while fending off the advances of the local womenfolk, who yearn to ease his pain. Both hyper-aware of his unique situation, yet filled with self-loathing, he struggles mightily with the realization that his career success, comfortable home and affluence (via a fat airline settlement) all stem from Hailey's death. He also has to deal with conflicted feelings for Hailey's son Russ, a sensitive but troubled teenager who is in worse shape than Doug. Feeling unwelcome in the home of his womanizing dad, Jim, Russ dabbles in drugs and gets into fights. He needs a stable male figure in his life-a role Doug hardly feels qualified to take on. Meanwhile, Doug's bossy twin sister Claire suddenly moves in with him after her marriage falters, taking it upon herself to get her brother dating again, demanding that he begin to say "yes" to life. Doug goes out on a series of comically unsuccessful dates, while flirting with Russ's foxy guidance counselor Brooke. He also succumbs to the hottest of his desperate housewives, Laney Potter, setting off a chain of events culminating at the wedding of his baby sister Debbie, a brittle overachiever. With strong, impossibly beautiful femalecharacters and naughty, unworthy men, Tropper's latest (Everything Changes, 2005, etc.) is a resigned yet hopeful examination of grief with a side of human absurdity. Warm and modestly knowing, with a wisecracking slacker hero.
From the Publisher
“Tropper has the twentysomething guy thing down to a science. His prose is funny and insightful, his characters quirky and just a bit off-balance but decent enough to take to our hearts.”—Booklist

"A portrait of a modern guy in crisis.... Alternately flippant and sad."—Publishers Weekly

“Most resembles Lolly Winston's light, bright Good Grief.... [An] entertaining new contribution to lad lit.”—Miami Herald

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Russ is stoned. You can see it in the whites of his eyes, which are actually more of a glazed pink under the flickering yellow porch light, in the dark discs of his dilated pupils, in the way his eyelids hang sluggishly at half-mast, and in the careless manner in which he leans nonchalantly against the pissed-off cop that is propping him up at my front door, like they’re drinking buddies staggering out into the night after last call. It’s just past midnight, and when the doorbell rang I was sprawled out in my usual position on the couch, half asleep but entirely drunk, torturing myself by tearing memories out of my mind at random like matches from a book, striking them one at a time and drowsily setting myself on fire.

“What happened?” I say.

“He got into a fight with some other kids down at the 7-Eleven,” the cop says, holding on to the top of Russ’s arm. And now I can see the lacerations and bruises on Russ’s face, the angry sickle-shaped scratch across his neck. His black T-shirt has been stretched beyond repair and torn at the neck, and his ear is bleeding where one of his earrings was snagged.

“You okay?” I say to Russ.

“Fuck you, Doug.”

It’s been a while since I last saw him, and he’s cultivated some facial hair, a rough little soul patch just beneath his bottom lip.

“You’re not his father?” the cop says.

“No. I’m not.” I rub my eyes with my fists, trying to gather my wits about me. The bourbon had been singing me its final lullaby, and in the freshly shattered stillness, everything still feels like it’s underwater.

“He said you were his father.”

“He kind of disowned me,” Russ says bitterly.

“I’m his stepfather,” I say. “I used to be, anyway.”

“You used to be.” The cop says this with the expression of someone who’s tasted some bad Thai food, and gives me a hard look. He’s a big guy—you’d have to be to hold up Russ, who at sixteen is already over six feet tall, broad and stocky. “You look young enough to be his brother.”

“I was married to his mother,” I say.

“And where is she?”

“She’s gone.”

“He means she’s dead,” Russ says contemptuously. He raises his hand and lowers it in a descending arc, whistling as it goes down, and then hissing through his teeth to generate the sound effect of an explosion. “Buh-bye.”

“Shut up, Russ.”

“Make me, Doug.”

The cop tightens his thick fingers around Russ’s arm. “Keep quiet, son.”

“I’m not your son,” Russ snarls, trying in vain to tear himself away from the cop’s iron grip. “I’m not anybody’s son.”

The cop presses him easily up against the doorpost to quash his flailing arms and then turns back to me. “And the father?”

“I don’t know.” I turn back to Russ. “Where’s Jim?”

Russ shrugs. “Down in Florida for a few days.”

“What about Angie?”

“She’s with him.”

“They left you alone?”

“It was just for two nights. They’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Angie,” the cop says.

“His father’s wife.”

The cop looks annoyed, like we’re giving him a headache. I want to explain everything to him, show him that it’s really not as screwed up as it all sounds, but then I remember that it is.

“So the kid doesn’t live here?”

“He used to,” I say. “I mean, this was his mother’s house.”

“Look,” the cop says wearily. He’s a middle-aged guy, with a graying caterpillar of a mustache and tired eyes. “Whatever he’s been smoking, I didn’t find any of it on him. My shift is just about over, and I have no desire to spend another hour processing the kid over a stupid parking-lot scuffle. I’ve got three boys of my own. He’s being a hard-ass now, but he cried in the squad car and asked me to bring him here. So this is how it works. I can take him to the station and write him up for a handful of misdemeanors, or you can let him in and promise me that it will never happen again.”

Russ just stares sullenly at me, like this is all my fault.

“It will never happen again,” I say.

“Okay, then.” The cop releases Russ, who whips his arm away violently and then bolts into the house and up the stairs to his room, shooting me a look of unrefined hatred that pierces the blubber of my drunken stupor like a harpoon.

“Thank you, Officer,” I say to the cop. “He’s really a good kid. He’s just had a tough year.”

“Just so you know,” the cop says, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “This isn’t the first time he’s been in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

The cop shrugs. “The usual stuff. Fighting mostly. Some vandalism. And he’s obviously no stranger to the weed. I don’t know your deal here, but someone needs to start enforcing a curfew, and maybe get him some counseling. The kid is headed for trouble.”

“I’ll talk to his father,” I say.

“Next time, he gets booked.”

“I understand. Thanks again.”

The cop gives me a last skeptical look, and I can see myself through his eyes, bedraggled, unshaven, bloodshot, and half crocked. I’d be skeptical too. “I’m sorry about your wife,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say, closing the door behind him. “You and me both.”

Upstairs, Russ has crawled under the covers in the darkness of what used to be his room. Everything is just as he left it, because, as with just about every other room in the house, I haven’t disturbed anything in the year since Hailey died. The house is like a freeze-framed picture of the life we once had, snapped in the instant before it was obliterated. I stand backlit in the hallway, my shadow falling on the bends and folds of his comforter as I try to come up with something to say to this strange, angry boy to whom I am supposed to somehow feel connected.

“I can hear you breathing,” he says without lifting his face off the pillow.

“Sorry,” I say, stepping into the room. “So, what was the fight about?”

“Nothing. These assholes just started talking shit to us.”

“They go to your school?”

“Nah, they were older guys.”

“I guess it’s hard to put up too much of a fight when you’re stoned.”

“Right.” He rolls over and lifts his head to sneer at me. “Do you really feel like you’re the best person to give me a lecture on the evils of drugs, Captain Jack?”

I sigh.

“Yeah. I didn’t think so,” he says, rolling back onto his pillow and burrowing his face into his arms. “Look, it’s been a long fucking night, so if you don’t mind . . .”

“I lost her too, Russ,” I say.

He makes a sound into his arms that might be a derisive snort or a smothered sob, I can’t quite tell. “Just close the door on your way out,” he whispers.

You never know when you’re going to die, but maybe something in you does, some cellular consciousness that’s aware of the cosmic countdown and starts making plans, because on the last night of her life, Hailey surprised me by wearing a bloodred dress, cut low and tight in all the right spots. It was almost as if she knew what was coming, knew that this would be our last night together, and she was determined to keep herself from fading too quickly into the washed-out colors of memory.

I couldn’t stop looking at her, my eyes dwelling for longer than usual on the familiar curves and contours of her body, still lithe and toned after one child and almost forty years, on the soft pockets of her exposed clavicles, the satiny white surface of her skin, and I wanted her in exactly the way you generally don’t want someone you’ve been sleeping with for almost three years. I found myself considering the practical implications of sneaking away from the table to meet in the bathroom for a quickie, pictured us in the confines of the locked bathroom, chuckling at our audacity between deep kisses as I pressed her up against the wall, the red dress pulled up over her waist, her smooth bare legs wrapped around me, pulling me into her. That’s what happens when you spend enough years living on your own with premium cable.

But even as the mental image aroused me to the point of discomfort beneath the table, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. For one thing, there was no way for both of us to slip away inconspicuously. For another, I was twenty-eight and Hailey almost forty, and while I liked to think that our sex life was good, better than most probably, quickies in public restrooms were no longer part of our repertoire. Actually, they’d never really been part of it to begin with, since I’m somewhat germ phobic, and the thought of exchanging fluids in the presence of all that random bacteria would be more than I could handle.

On the drive home, my hand slid higher and higher up the smooth vanilla expanse of her bare thigh, and by the time we’d pulled into the garage she was in my pants. I pulled up her dress in the darkness and bent her over the hood of the car, still hot and pinging from the drive, and then we were hot and pinging and we were teenagers again, except we were good at it, and we actually owned the car.

We must have been trailing afterglow like fairy dust when we came into the house a short while later, because Russ paused his video game, gave us a funny look, and then shook his head and told us to get a room. “No need,” Hailey said, grabbing my hand and heading for the stairs. “We’ve already got one.”

“Gross!” he said and, having rendered his judgment, went back to nonchalantly annihilating the undead on the wide- screen. And Hailey and I went upstairs to break the laws of God and the state of New York, and we went at it deliriously, with a renewed passion, kissing and licking and drinking and devouring each other. Like there was no tomorrow.

We’d been married for just under two years. I had left the city and moved in with Hailey and Russ, into the small Colonial she’d lived in with her first husband, Jim, until she found out he was cheating on her and kicked him out. And I was still getting used to the transformation, to being a husband in suburbia instead of a prowling dick in the city, to being a stepfather to a sullen teenager and the youngest member of the Temple Israel softball team, to dinner parties and backyard barbecues and school plays. I was still getting used to all of that when she got on a plane to see a client in California and somewhere over Colorado the pilot somehow missed the sky. And sometimes that life we were only just starting seems as tenuous to me as a fading dream, and I have to convince myself that it was actually real. I had a wife, I say to myself, over and over again. Her name was Hailey. Now she’s gone. And so am I.

But we’re not going to talk about that right now, because to talk about it I’ll have to think about it, and I’ve thought it to death over the last year. There are parts of my brain that are still tirelessly thinking about it, about her, an entire research and development department wholly dedicated to finding new ways to grieve and mourn and feel sorry for myself. And let me tell you, they’re good at what they do down there. So I’ll leave them to it.

Meet the Author

Jonathan Tropper is the author of Everything Changes, The Book of Joe, which was a BookSense selection, and Plan B. He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children in Westchester, New York, where he teaches writing at Manhattanville College. How to Talk to a Widower was optioned by Paramount Pictures, and Everything Changes and The Book of Joe are also in development as feature films.

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How to Talk to a Widower 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
ddNJ More than 1 year ago
It took a couple chapters for me to get into this book because at first I thought the main character might be too self-absorbed to care about, but boy was I wrong! The family dynamics in this book are simply sublime. I have not laughed so hard -only to seconds later sob-- over fictional characters in a long time. Jonathan Tropper writes with the boldness of a 20-something young man, but then throws in unexpected sensitivity and grace. I couldn't put this book down and when it was over, I found myself missing Doug and Russ and Doug's dad and hoping for the best for them all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book -- it was both engaging and witty 'at times laugh out loud funny' while at the same time poignant and touching. The points about grief and the fear of moving on resonated true, and the family dynamics were hilarious.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being someone who was widowed at age 30, you tend to be careful about books on the subject but this book was AWESOME . . . it was funny, heartfelt and engaging. I may be biased but I LOVED the subject matter and the subjects. I immediately went out and got all of Topper's books after reading this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i really have liked all of jonathan tropper's book so I picked this one up as soon as i could. it was a slow start but by the middle of the book i was very into it and couldn't put it down. alternatively funny and sad, by the end i was in tears. definitely recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book while sitting on the floor of my neighborhood barnesandnobles. I reached page 90, and had to go on with my day so I bought the book without any hesitation. I've read one other Tropper book, but this one clearly stands out as the best. It was completely engaging. The characters were very true to life, the family dynamic was also true to life and incredibly funny. This book has a little bit of everything....humor, sadness, an anthropological view of the suburbs. One aspect of the story seemed a little far fetched to me, but I didn't even mind because I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the writing. There were a variety of points where I was awed by Tropper's use of language.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Twenty-nine years old Doug Parker cannot believe how fast life can change when his spouse Hailey dies in a plane crash. However, his grief is so great he struggles to leave their home and he writes about it in his magazine column so that many feel for him as a young widower raising a teenage stepson, Russ with big issues since his mom died. He wants to hide in his grief cocoon, but instead he becomes a media darling as everyone wants Doug on their show.------------- However, his woes turn uglier when his pregnant twin sister Claire leaves her husband and moves in with Doug and Russ. Her plan is to force her brother to move on with his life. Local females sympathize with Doug while a few want to be the one who take him out of his depression starting with the wife of his best friend, the strippers he meets, and the guidance counselor who worries about both males residing in the Parker home.------------ This is a well written character study of a young man grieving the unexpected death of his wife after just a couple years together. Doug is an interesting protagonist as he deals with issues ranging from guilt to loneliness to failing Russ, who has his own problems. The outside world wants in to his fishbowl adding more troubles to a troubled soul. Jonathan Tropper provides a strong tale that looks at the grief process from the differing perspective of a man under thirty unable to cope.------ Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so arresting" It showcases the full range of human emotion-- and then the author introduces hilarity!Grief through the male perspective,Doug is the person who lives inside all of us; aware, but human. Vulnerable, courageous, and repeatedly flawed. I hope there is a sequel.
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mary25 More than 1 year ago
I don't usually read books by male authors because I have a hard time relating, but I a laughed and cried all the way through this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read most of J. Tropper's books. He is a great writer! When you buy one of his books you know that it will be an enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all os the Jonathan Tropper books available and really enjoy his stories, his characters and his sense of humor. Of all of the books, this was my least favorite. It took me a long time to like this character at all. I also caught myself drifting off as the narrator rambled on and on. Otherwise, it was alright. The basic story was good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Tropper has done it once again! Well written, great characters, sharp dialogue and parts that made me burst out laughing. Plan B is next on my list!
aimlyss More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this book, my second by this author. I like Jonathan Tropper's writing style and his ability to really bring the characters' feelings to life. This book deals with the pain of loss, moving on, dysfunctional families, just a lot of 'real' stuff. I'll definitely be looking for more of Mr. Tropper's books.
bookaddict--Andover More than 1 year ago
Another hit WAY out of the park! I have read 3 of his books and have not been disappointed in any of them. A HILARIOUS yet heartbraking story of the struggle between keeping a lost loved one's memory alive while not destroying your life in the process. His characters are so vivid they virtually jump from the pages and act out their craziness in your living room. He is an amazing author and I guarantee you won't be disappointed!
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Another great one!!
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