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A Widow for One Year [NOOK Book]

Overview

Twenty years after The World According to Garp, John Irving gave us his ninth novel, A Widow for One Year, about a family marked by tragedy. Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character -- a "difficult" woman. By no means is she conventionally "nice," but she will never be forgotten. Ruth's story is told in three parts, each focusing on a critical time in her life. When we first meet her -- on Long Island, in the summer of 1958 -- Ruth is only four. The second window into Ruth's life opens on the ...
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A Widow for One Year

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Overview

Twenty years after The World According to Garp, John Irving gave us his ninth novel, A Widow for One Year, about a family marked by tragedy. Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character -- a "difficult" woman. By no means is she conventionally "nice," but she will never be forgotten. Ruth's story is told in three parts, each focusing on a critical time in her life. When we first meet her -- on Long Island, in the summer of 1958 -- Ruth is only four. The second window into Ruth's life opens on the fall of 1990, when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career. She distrusts her judgment in men, for good reason. A Widow for One Year closes in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth Cole is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother. She's about to fall in love for the first time. Richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing, A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force. Both ribald and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief.
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Editorial Reviews

LA Times Book Review
Deeply affecting...The pleasures of this rich and beautiful book are manifold. To be human is to savor them.
San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
John Irving as at the peak of his considerable powers in A Widow for One Year, his most intricate and fully imagined novel.
Library Journal
The first half of Irving's ninth novel tells the story of Eddie O'Hare, a prep school student with literary aspirations who lands a job as a personal assistant to noted children's author Ted Cole in the summer of 1958. O'Hare spends most of the time in bed with Cole's wife, Marion. The second half of the book describes O'Hare's acquaintance, decades later, with Ruth Cole, Ted's daughter, who is also a successful writer. While researching her latest novel, Ruth witnesses the murder of an Amsterdam window prostitute. Irving tantalizes us with this promising subplot, then veers off in another direction. As in The World According to Garp, nearly every character in the book churns out reams of Irving-esque prose. It's hard to empathize with these dreary people, and their picaresque adventures seem to lack any thematic relevance. Instead of ending, the book simply runs out of steam. Still, there are legions of rabid Irving fans who will want to read every word he has written.
—Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
The New York Times
Irving's most entertaining and persuasive novel since his 1978 bestseller, The World According to Garp.
Peter Kurth
A Widow for One Year, the enormously entertaining new novel by John Irving, is all narrative, all character, all author. This is to be expected from Irving, a writer who describes his fiction as "old-fashioned" and looks to 19th century novels as the model for his work. It's the measure of his achievement here that in a book spanning 40 years and nearly 600 pages, you feel when it's over that you've spent your time wisely, not just with the story and its protagonists, but with their creator, too, whose voice remains as forceful and distinctive as his characters' without once intruding where it doesn't belong.

The "widow" of Irving's title is Ruth Cole, just 4 years old when the novel opens in 1958. "This is Ruth's story," says Irving slyly, though anyone who's read his books before will guess that Ruth's story quickly becomes many stories. Ruth is the child of a stupendously successful children's book writer, Ted Cole, hard-drinking and a "womanizer," and his beautiful, distant wife, Marion. Before Ruth's birth, the Coles had suffered the loss of their two teenage sons, Thomas and Timothy, in a car wreck on Long Island. Ruth is the boys' wary replacement, born to a house of grief and relentless memories, instructed in the lives of her dead brothers from her first moment of consciousness and surrounded by their photographs until Marion suddenly leaves Ted, taking all the pictures with her and disappearing forever from Ruth's life. The immediate instigator of Marion's departure is Eddie O'Hare, a 16-year-old Exeter student employed as an assistant by Ted one summer with the express idea that he will have an affair with Marion; that Marion will see in Eddie the image of her lost sons; that divorce will ensue and that Ted, finally, will have custody of Ruth.

But be warned: This is only the set-up for the tale. As usual with Irving, A Widow for One Year is an epic tragedy told in madcap terms. Ruth grows up to be a bestselling novelist; Eddie also writes books, though not as successfully; Ted carries on drinking and seducing other men's wives; and Marion — but to tell about Marion would be playing unfair. It's familiar Irving territory, wildly comic, ruminative and spread all over the globe. In the end, however, this is a novel about biography and the nature of fiction, a well-known theme of Irving's that doesn't suffer in the retelling.

"Ruth Cole's credo amounted to a war against the roman à clef," Irving writes pointedly, "a put-down of the autobiographical novel ... She asserted that the best fictional detail was a chosen detail, not a remembered one — for fictional truth was not only the truth of observation, which was the truth of mere journalism. The best fictional detail was the detail that should have defined the character or the episode or the atmosphere. Fictional truth was what should have happened in a story — not necessarily what did happen or what had happened." A lot happens in A Widow for One Year, of that you can be sure. It's a welcome and robust roar to life from one of our finest storytellers.
Salon April 28, 1998

William H. Pritchard
...[S]eems to me the best story John Irving has yet contrived.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Irving's latest LBM (Loose Baggy Monster, that is), which portrays with serio-comic gusto the literary life and its impact on both writers and their families, is simultaneously one of his most intriguing books and one of his most self-indulgent and flaccid. Though it's primarily the story of successful novelist Ruth Cole, the lengthy foreground, set in Sagaponack, Long Island, in 1958, is dominated by Ruth's parents, Ted and Marion, both minor novelists (though Ted later becomes rich and famous as a writer and illustrator of children's stories), both mourning the deaths of their two teenaged sons in an automobile accident. Ted copes by seducing younger (often married) women; Marion, by bearing a daughter (Ruth) whom she'll later abandon following her affair with 16-year-old Eddie O'Hare, a prep-school student hired by Ted as a 'writer's assistant.' Later sections, set in 1990 and 1995, dwell melodramatically on Ruth's painstaking progress toward romantic happiness (including a European book tour that involves her with a prostitutes' rights organization) and the lingering effects of their adolescent affair on Eddie, who's now a middle-aged novelist and 'perpetual visiting writer-in-residence' with a lifelong passion for older women.

A grieving widow, offended by one of Ruth's novels, pronounces a curse on her. Eddie accidentally learns that the fugitive Marion is living in Canada, writing detective novels (by now the bemused reader may have anticipated the question later put to Ruth: 'Is everyone you know a writer?'). The story moves sluggishly, and overindulges both Irving's (Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, 1996) love of intricate Victorian plots and his literary likes anddislikes. On the other hand, his characters are vividly imagined, insistent presences who get under your skin and stay with you. A thoughtful, if diffuse, examination of how writers make art of their lives and loves without otherwise benefitting from the process.

From the Publisher
"[As] satisfying as one of Shakespeare's romances ... rich in perfect details [and] ... miraculous events, the sort that are longed for and cherished, the sort that sustain the imagination when reality becomes too disappointing."
The Financial Post

"Full of the antics of scorned lovers and infatuated youth, of madcap chases and boisterous lovemaking ... He offers ... a faith in patient storytelling and the conviction that narrative hunger is part of our essence."
—Carol Shields, The Globe and Mail

"Powerful and sophisticated ... A stunning narrative ... wonderful, sumptuous, entertaining."
The Ottawa Citizen

"[Irving's] storytelling has never been better... engaging and affecting ... old-fashioned and modern all at once."
The New York Times

"[A] rich, great new novel ... profoundly engaging and lively ... Irving unearths [the] departed beauty in our lives."
Quill & Quire

"Irving is at the height of his considerable literary powers. His novels burst with stories, characters, arguments, oddities and images that help us define the world we live in."
Playboy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375504471
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/21/1999
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 59,977
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

John Winslow Irving was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. He is the author of nine novels, among them The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and A Son of the Circus. Mr. Irving is married and has three sons; he lives in Toronto and in southern Vermont.

Biography

It was as a struggling, withdrawn student at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire prep school where his stepfather taught Russian history, that John Irving discovered the two great loves of his life: writing and wrestling. Modestly, he attributes his success in both endeavors to dogged perseverance. "My life in wrestling was one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline," he confessed in his 1996 mini-memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend. "I believe that my life as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline, too."

Certainly, patience and stamina have served Irving well -- in both wrestling (he competed until he was 34, coached well into his 40s, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992) and writing. His first book, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968 to respectable reviews but sold poorly. Over the course of the next ten years, he wrote two more unsuccessful novels (The Water-Method Man and The 158-Pound Marriage).

Then, in 1978, Irving hit the jackpot with The World According to Garp, a freewheeling comic saga incorporating motifs he would revisit many times over -- feminism, adultery, violence, grotesquerie, and an overriding sense of impending doom. Garp received a National Book Award nomination and became an instant cult classic. It also paved the way for a string of bestsellers, including The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and The Fourth Hand, to name a few.

While none of his novels are strictly autobiographical, Irving has never denied that certain elements from his life have seeped into his books, most notably the pervading "presence" of his biological father, John Wallace Blunt, a man Irving never knew. Raised by his mother and a stepfather he loved dearly, Irving had denied for years any curiosity about his absent parent, but the figure of the missing father haunted his writing like a specter. In 2005, he laid the ghost to rest with the publication of Until I Find You, a searing story that took shape slowly and painfully over the better part of a decade. Writing the novel also allowed the author to wrestle with a closely guarded secret from his past -- just like the novel's protagonist Jack Burns, Irving was sexually abused as a preteen by an older woman. In an eerily timed coincidence, while he was crafting the novel, Irving was contacted by a man named Chris Blunt, who identified himself as the son of Irving's biological father. Twenty years younger than Irving, his half-brother told Irving that their father had died in 1995. Although Irving was devastated by the experience, he now feels as if he is able to turn the page and move on.

In addition to his novels, Irving has also written a collection of short stories and essays (1995's Trying to Save Piggy Sneed) and several screenplays, including his Oscar-winning adaptation of The Cider House Rules. He chronicled the experience of bringing his novel to the screen in the 1999 memoir My Movie Business.

Good To Know

  • Irving struggled in school with a learning disability that was probably undiagnosed dyslexia. Today, he considers it something of a blessing. Forced to read slowly, he savored each word and literally fell in love with language and literature.

  • In a 2001 interview with the now-defunct Book magazine, Irving confessed, "The characters in my novels, from the very first one, are always on some quixotic effort of attempting to control something that is uncontrollable -- some element of the world that is essentially random and out of control."

  • Although the results have been mixed at best, film versions have been made of several Irving novels, including The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, and The Cider House Rules, which won for Irving a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In addition, the movie Simon Birch was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and the first third of Irving's novel A Widow for One Year became the acclaimed film The Door in the Floor.

  • One of Irving's great literary influences was Kurt Vonnegut, his teacher and mentor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The two writers remained close friends until Vonnegut's death in 2007.

  • Irving has two tattoos: a maple leaf (in honor of his Canadian wife) on his left shoulder, and the starting circle of a wrestling match on his right forearm.

  • The influence of Charles Dickens is evident in Irving's novels, sprawling epics with huge casts of colorful, eccentric characters and lots of complex plot points that crop up, disappear for hundreds of pages, then resurface unexpectedly. He writes voluminously and in great detail; he refuses to use a computer; and he begins at the end, writing the last sentence of each novel first. He describes himself as a craftsman and claims that he owes his success more to rewrites, ruthless editing, and infinite patience than to artistic genius.

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      1. Also Known As:
        John Wallace Blunt, Jr.
      2. Hometown:
        Vermont
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 2, 1942
      2. Place of Birth:
        Exeter, New Hampshire
      1. Education:
        B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

    Read an Excerpt

    CHAPTER ONE

    Summer 1958

    The Inadequate Lamp Shade

    One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking--it was coming from her parents' bedroom. It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her. Ruth had recently been ill with a stomach flu; when she first heard her mother making love, Ruth thought that her mother was throwing up.

    It was not as simple a matter as her parents having separate bedrooms; that summer they had separate houses, although Ruth never saw the other house. Her parents spent alternate nights in the family house with Ruth; there was a rental house nearby, where Ruth's mother or father stayed when they weren't staying with Ruth. It was one of those ridiculous arrangements that couples make when they are separating, but before they are divorced--when they still imagine that children and property can be shared with more magnanimity than recrimination.

    When Ruth woke to the foreign sound, she at first wasn't sure if it was her mother or her father who was throwing up; then, despite the unfamiliarity of the disturbance, Ruth recognized that measure of melancholy and contained hysteria which was often detectable in her mother's voice. Ruth also remembered that it was her mother's turn to stay with her.

    The master bathroom separated Ruth's room from the master bedroom. When the four-year-old padded barefoot through the bathroom, she took a towel with her. (When she'd been sick with the stomach flu, her father had encouraged her to vomit in a towel.) Poor Mommy! Ruth thought, bringing her the towel.

    In the dim moonlight, and in the even dimmer and erratic light from thenight-light that Ruth's father had installed in the bathroom, Ruth saw the pale faces of her dead brothers in the photographs on the bathroom wall. There were photos of her dead brothers throughout the house, on all the walls; although the two boys had died as teenagers, before Ruth was born (before she was even conceived), Ruth felt that she knew these vanished young men far better than she knew her mother or father.

    The tall, dark one with the angular face was Thomas; even at Ruth's age, when he'd been only four, Thomas had had a leading man's kind of handsomeness--a combination of poise and thuggery that, in his teenage years, gave him the seeming confidence of a much older man. (Thomas had been the driver of the doomed car.)

    The younger, insecure-looking one was Timothy; even as a teenager, he was baby-faced and appeared to have just been startled by something. In many of the photographs, Timothy seemed to be caught in a moment of indecision, as if he were perpetually reluctant to imitate an incredibly difficult stunt that Thomas had mastered with apparent ease. (In the end, it was something as basic as driving a car that Thomas failed to master sufficiently.)

    When Ruth Cole entered her parents' bedroom, she saw the naked young man who had mounted her mother from behind; he was holding her mother's breasts in his hands and humping her on all fours, like a dog, but it was neither the violence nor the repugnance of the sexual act that caused Ruth to scream. The four-year-old didn't know that she was witnessing a sexual act--nor did the young man and her mother's activity strike Ruth as entirely unpleasant. In fact, Ruth was relieved to see that her mother was not throwing up. And it wasn't the young man's nakedness that caused Ruth to scream; she had seen her father and her mother nakednakedness was not hidden among the Coles. It was the young man himself who made Ruth scream, because she was certain he was one of her dead brothers; he looked so much like Thomas, the confident one, that Ruth Cole believed she had seen a ghost.

    A four-year-old's scream is a piercing sound. Ruth was astonished at the speed with which her mother's young lover dismounted; indeed, he removed himself from both the woman and her bed with such a combination of panic and zeal that he appeared to be propelled--it was almost as if a cannonball had dislodged him. He fell over the night table, and, in an effort to conceal his nakedness, removed the lamp shade from the broken bedside lamp. As such, he seemed a less menacing sort of ghost than Ruth had first judged him to be; furthermore, now that Ruth took a closer look at him, she recognized him. He was the boy who occupied the most distant guest room, the boy who drove her father's car--the boy who worked for her daddy, her mommy had said. Once or twice the boy had driven Ruth and her babysitter to the beach.

    That summer, Ruth had three different nannies; each of them had commented on how pale the boy was, but Ruth's mother had told her that some people just didn't like the sun. The child had never before seen the boy without his clothes, of course; yet Ruth was certain that the young man's name was Eddie and that he wasn't a ghost. Nevertheless, the four-year-old screamed again.

    Her mother, still on all fours on her bed, looked characteristically unsurprised; she merely viewed her daughter with an expression of discouragement edged with despair. Before Ruth could cry out a third time, her mother said, "Don't scream, honey. It's just Eddie and me. Go back to bed."

    Ruth Cole did as she was told, once more passing those photographs--more ghostly-seeming now than her mother's fallen ghost of a lover. Eddie, while attempting to hide himself with the lamp shade, had been oblivious to the fact that the lamp shade, being open at both ends, afforded Ruth an unobstructed view of his diminishing penis.

    At four, Ruth was too young to ever remember Eddie or his penis with the greatest detail, but he would remember her. Thirty-six years later, when he was fifty-two and Ruth was forty, this ill-fated young man would fall in love with Ruth Cole. Yet not even then would he regret having fucked Ruth's mother. Alas, that would be Eddie's problem. This is Ruth's story.

    That her parents had expected her to be a third son was not the reason Ruth Cole became a writer; a more likely source of her imagination was that she grew up in a house where the photographs of her dead brothers were a stronger presence than any "presence" she detected in either her mother or her father--and that, after her mother abandoned her and her father (and took with her almost all the photos of her lost sons), Ruth would wonder why her father left the picture hooks stuck in the bare walls. The picture hooks were part of the reason she became a writer--for years after her mother left, Ruth would try to remember which of the photographs had hung from which of the hooks. And, failing to recall the actual pictures of her perished brothers to her satisfaction, Ruth began to invent all the captured moments in their short lives, which she had missed. That Thomas and Timothy were killed before she was born was another part of the reason Ruth Cole became a writer; from her earliest memory, she was forced to imagine them.

    It was one of those automobile accidents involving teenagers that, in the aftermath, revealed that both boys had been "good kids" and that neither of them had been drinking. Worst of all, to the endless torment of their parents, the coincidence of Thomas and Timothy being in that car at that exact time, and in that specific place, was the result of an altogether avoidable quarrel between the boys' mother and father. The poor parents would relive the tragic results of their trivial argument for the rest of their lives.

    Later Ruth was told that she was conceived in a well-intentioned but passionless act. Ruth's parents were mistaken to even imagine that their sons were replaceable--nor did they pause to consider that the new baby who would bear the burden of their impossible expectations might be a girl.

    That Ruth Cole would grow up to be that rare combination of a well-respected literary novelist and an internationally best-selling author is not as remarkable as the fact that she managed to grow up at all. Those handsome young men in the photographs had stolen most of her mother's affection; however, her mother's rejection was more bearable to Ruth than growing up in the shadow of the coldness that passed between her parents.

    Ted Cole, a best-selling author and illustrator of books for children, was a handsome man who was better at writing and drawing for children than he was at fulfilling the daily responsibilities of fatherhood. And until Ruth was four-and-a-half, while Ted Cole was not always drunk, he frequently drank too much. It's also true that, while Ted was not a womanizer every waking minute, at no time in his life was he ever entirely nota womanizer. (Granted, this made him more unreliable with women than he was with children.)

    Ted had ended up writing for children by default. His literary debut was an overpraised adult novel of an indisputably literary sort. The two novels that followed aren't worth mentioning, except to say that no one--especially Ted Cole's publisher--had expressed any noticeable interest in a fourth novel, which was never written. Instead, Ted wrote his first children's book. Called The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls, it was very nearly not published; at first glance, it appeared to be one of those children's books that are of dubious appeal to parents and remain memorable to children only because children remember being frightened. At least Thomas and Timothy were frightened by The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls when Ted first told them the story; by the time Ted told it to Ruth, The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls had already frightened about nine or ten million children, in more than thirty languages, around the world.

    Like her dead brothers, Ruth grew up on her father's stories. When Ruth first read these stories in a book, it felt like a violation of her privacy. She'd imagined that her father had created these stories for her alone. Later she would wonder if her dead brothers had felt that their privacy had been similarly invaded.

    Regarding Ruth's mother: Marion Cole was a beautiful woman; she was also a good mother, at least until Ruth was born. And until the deaths of her beloved sons, she was a loyal and faithful wife--despite her husband's countless infidelities. But after the accident that took her boys away, Marion became a different woman, distant and cold. Because of her apparent indifference to her daughter, Marion was relatively easy for Ruth to reject. It would be harder for Ruth to recognize what was flawed about her father; it would also take a lot longer for her to come to this recognition, and by then it would be too late for Ruth to turn completely against him. Ted had charmed her--Ted charmed almost everyone, up to a certain age. No one was ever charmed by Marion. Poor Marion never tried to charm anyone, not even her only daughter; yet it was possible to love Marion Cole.

    And this is where Eddie, the unlucky young man with the inadequate lamp shade, enters the story. He loved Marion--he would never stop loving her. Naturally if he'd known from the beginning that he was going to fall in love with Ruth, he might have reconsidered falling in love with her mother. But probably not. Eddie couldn't help himself.

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    Table of Contents

    Biographical Note vii
    First Sentences: An Introduction to A Widow for One Year xiii
    Acknowledgments xxiii
    I. Summer 1958
    The Inadequate Lamp Shade 3
    Summer Job 8
    A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound 11
    Unhappy Mothers 20
    Marion, Waiting 25
    Eddie Is Bored--and Horny, Too 30
    The Door in the Floor 35
    A Masturbating Machine 47
    Come Hither ... 60
    The Pawn 71
    Ruth's Right Eye 79
    Dumping Mrs. Vaughn 85
    Why Panic at Ten O'Clock in the Morning? 97
    How the Writer's Assistant Became a Writer 109
    Something Almost Biblical 116
    The Authority of the Written Word 129
    A Motherless Child 137
    The Leg 152
    Working for Mr. Cole 161
    Leaving Long Island 170
    II. Fall 1990
    Eddie at Forty-Eight 187
    Ruth at Thirty-Six 202
    The Red and Blue Air Mattress 218
    Allan at Fifty-Four 225
    Hannah at Thirty-Five 244
    Ted at Seventy-Seven 257
    Ruth Remembers Learning to Drive 275
    Two Drawers 285
    Pain in an Unfamiliar Place 291
    Ruth Gives Her Father a Driving Lesson 300
    A Widow for the Rest of Her Life 309
    Ruth's Diary, and Selected Postcards 312
    The First Meeting 325
    Ruth Changes Her Story 339
    Not a Mother, Not Her Son 352
    The Moleman 362
    Followed Home from the Flying Food Circus 380
    Chapter One 382
    Missing Persons 388
    The Standoff 394
    Ruth's First Wedding 402
    III. Fall 1995
    The Civil Servant 413
    The Reader 419
    The Prostitute's Daughter 427
    Sergeant Hoekstra Finds His Witness 437
    In Which Eddie O'Hare Falls in Love Again 451
    Mrs. Cole 467
    Better Than Being in Paris with a Prostitute 480
    In Which Eddie and Hannah Fail to Reach an Agreement 496
    A Happy Couple, Their Two Unhappy Friends 512
    Marion at Seventy-Six 523
    Read More Show Less

    First Chapter

    Summer 1958

    The Inadequate Lamp Shade


    One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking--it was coming from her parents' bedroom. It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her. Ruth had recently been ill with a stomach flu; when she first heard her mother making love, Ruth thought that her mother was throwing up.

    It was not as simple a matter as her parents having separate bedrooms; that summer they had separate houses, although Ruth never saw the other house. Her parents spent alternate nights in the family house with Ruth; there was a rental house nearby, where Ruth's mother or father stayed when they weren't staying with Ruth. It was one of those ridiculous arrangements that couples make when they are separating, but before they are divorced--when they still imagine that children and property can be shared with more magnanimity than recrimination.

    When Ruth woke to the foreign sound, she at first wasn't sure if it was her mother or her father who was throwing up; then, despite the unfamiliarity of the disturbance, Ruth recognized that measure of melancholy and contained hysteria which was often detectable in her mother's voice. Ruth also remembered that it was her mother's turn to stay with her.

    The master bathroom separated Ruth's room from the master bedroom. When the four-year-old padded barefoot through the bathroom, she took a towel with her. (When she'd been sick with the stomach flu, her father had encouraged her to vomit in a towel.) Poor Mommy! Ruth thought, bringing her the towel.

    In the dim moonlight, and in the even dimmer and erratic light from thenight-light that Ruth's father had installed in the bathroom, Ruth saw the pale faces of her dead brothers in the photographs on the bathroom wall. There were photos of her dead brothers throughout the house, on all the walls; although the two boys had died as teenagers, before Ruth was born (before she was even conceived), Ruth felt that she knew these vanished young men far better than she knew her mother or father.

    The tall, dark one with the angular face was Thomas; even at Ruth's age, when he'd been only four, Thomas had had a leading man's kind of handsomeness--a combination of poise and thuggery that, in his teenage years, gave him the seeming confidence of a much older man. (Thomas had been the driver of the doomed car.)

    The younger, insecure-looking one was Timothy; even as a teenager, he was baby-faced and appeared to have just been startled by something. In many of the photographs, Timothy seemed to be caught in a moment of indecision, as if he were perpetually reluctant to imitate an incredibly difficult stunt that Thomas had mastered with apparent ease. (In the end, it was something as basic as driving a car that Thomas failed to master sufficiently.)

    When Ruth Cole entered her parents' bedroom, she saw the naked young man who had mounted her mother from behind; he was holding her mother's breasts in his hands and humping her on all fours, like a dog, but it was neither the violence nor the repugnance of the sexual act that caused Ruth to scream. The four-year-old didn't know that she was witnessing a sexual act--nor did the young man and her mother's activity strike Ruth as entirely unpleasant. In fact, Ruth was relieved to see that her mother was not throwing up.
    And it wasn't the young man's nakedness that caused Ruth to scream; she had seen her father and her mother nakedÑnakedness was not hidden among the Coles. It was the young man himself who made Ruth scream, because she was certain he was one of her dead brothers; he looked so much like Thomas, the confident one, that Ruth Cole believed she had seen a ghost.

    A four-year-old's scream is a piercing sound. Ruth was astonished at the speed with which her mother's young lover dismounted; indeed, he removed himself from both the woman and her bed with such a combination of panic and zeal that he appeared to be propelled--it was almost as if a cannonball had dislodged him. He fell over the night table, and, in an effort to conceal his nakedness, removed the lamp shade from the broken bedside lamp. As such, he seemed a less menacing sort of ghost than Ruth had first judged him to be; furthermore, now that Ruth took a closer look at him, she recognized him. He was the boy who occupied the most distant guest room, the boy who drove her father's car--the boy who worked for her daddy, her mommy had said. Once or twice the boy had driven Ruth and her babysitter to the beach.

    That summer, Ruth had three different nannies; each of them had commented on how pale the boy was, but Ruth's mother had told her that some people just didn't like the sun. The child had never before seen the boy without his clothes, of course; yet Ruth was certain that the young man's name was Eddie and that he wasn't a ghost. Nevertheless, the four-year-old screamed again.

    Her mother, still on all fours on her bed, looked characteristically unsurprised; she merely viewed her daughter with an expression of discouragement edged with despair. Before Ruth could cry out a third time, her mother said, "Don't scream, honey. It's just Eddie and me. Go back to bed."

    Ruth Cole did as she was told, once more passing those photographs--more ghostly-seeming now than her mother's fallen ghost of a lover. Eddie, while attempting to hide himself with the lamp shade, had been oblivious to the fact that the lamp shade, being open at both ends, afforded Ruth an unobstructed view of his diminishing penis.
    At four, Ruth was too young to ever remember Eddie orhis penis with the greatest detail, but he would remember her. Thirty-six years later, when he was fifty-two and Ruth was forty, this ill-fated young man would fall in love with Ruth Cole. Yet not even then would he regret having fucked Ruth's mother. Alas, that would be Eddie's problem. This is Ruth's story.

    That her parents had expected her to be a third son was not the reason Ruth Cole became a writer; a more likely source of her imagination was that she grew up in a house where the photographs of her dead brothers were a stronger presence than any "presence" she detected in either her mother or her father--and that, after her mother abandoned her and her father (and took with her almost all the photos of her lost sons), Ruth would wonder why her father left the picture hooks stuck in the bare walls. The picture hooks were part of the reason she became a writer--for years after her mother left, Ruth would try to remember which of the photographs had hung from which of the hooks. And, failing to recall the actual pictures of her perished brothers to her satisfaction, Ruth began to invent all the captured moments in their short lives, which she had missed. That Thomas and Timothy were killed before she was born was another part of the reason Ruth Cole became a writer; from her earliest memory, she was forced to imagine them.

    It was one of those automobile accidents involving teenagers that, in the aftermath, revealed that both boys had been "good kids" and that neither of them had been drinking. Worst of all, to the endless torment of their parents, the coincidence of Thomas and Timothy being in that car at that exact time, and in that specific place, was the result of an altogether avoidable quarrel between the boys' mother and father. The poor parents would relive the tragic results of their trivial argument for the rest of their lives.

    Later Ruth was told that she was conceived in a well-intentioned but passionless act. Ruth's parents were mistaken to even imagine that their sons were replaceable--nor did they pause to consider that the new baby who would bear the burden of their impossible expectations might be a girl.

    That Ruth Cole would grow up to be that rare combination of a well-respected literary novelist and an internationally best-selling author is not as remarkable as the fact that she managed to grow up at all. Those handsome young men in the photographs had stolen most of her mother's affection; however, her mother's rejection was more bearable to Ruth than growing up in the shadow of the coldness that passed between her parents.

    Ted Cole, a best-selling author and illustrator of books for children, was a handsome man who was better at writing and drawing for children than he was at fulfilling the daily responsibilities of fatherhood. And until Ruth was four-and-a-half, while Ted Cole was not always drunk, he frequently drank too much. It's also true that, while Ted was not a womanizer every waking minute, at no time in his life was he ever entirely nota womanizer. (Granted, this made him more unreliable with women than he was with children.)

    Ted had ended up writing for children by default. His literary debut was an overpraised adult novel of an indisputably literary sort. The two novels that followed aren't worth mentioning, except to say that no one--especially Ted Cole's publisher--had expressed any noticeable interest in a fourth novel, which was never written. Instead, Ted wrote his first children's book. Called The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls, it was very nearly not published; at first glance, it appeared to be one of those children's books that are of dubious appeal to parents and remain memorable to children only because children remember being frightened. At least Thomas and Timothy were frightened by The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls when Ted first told them the story; by the time Ted told it to Ruth, The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls had already frightened about nine or ten million children, in more than thirty languages, around the world.

    Like her dead brothers, Ruth grew up on her father's stories. When Ruth first read these stories in a book, it felt like a violation of her privacy. She'd imagined that her father had created these stories for her alone. Later she would wonder if her dead brothers had felt that their privacy had been similarly invaded.

    Regarding Ruth's mother: Marion Cole was a beautiful woman; she was also a good mother, at least until Ruth was born. And until the deaths of her beloved sons, she was a loyal and faithful wife--despite her husband's countless infidelities. But after the accident that took her boys away, Marion became a different woman, distant and cold. Because of her apparent indifference to her daughter, Marion was relatively easy for Ruth to reject. It would be harder for Ruth to recognize what was flawed about her father; it would also take a lot longer for her to come to this recognition, and by then it would be too late for Ruth to turn completely against him. Ted had charmed her--Ted charmed almost everyone, up to a certain age. No one was ever charmed by Marion. Poor Marion never tried to charm anyone, not even her only daughter; yet it was possible to love Marion Cole.

    And this is where Eddie, the unlucky young man with the inadequate lamp shade, enters the story. He loved Marion--he would never stop loving her. Naturally if he'd known from the beginning that he was going to fall in love with Ruth, he might have reconsidered falling in love with her mother. But probably not. Eddie couldn't help himself.
    Read More Show Less

    Foreword

    1. A passionate and complex theme throughout the book is the concept of a writer's imagination. "Eddie O'Hare, who was doomed to be only autobiographical in his novels, knew better than to presume that Ruth Cole was writing about herself. He understood from the first time he read her that she was better than that" (p. 204). What role does imagination, lack of it, even fear of it, play in the lives and careers of the central characters?

    2. Ruth, as a novelist, sees books as inventions based on both borrowed and imagined experiences—not necessarily personal ones. However, her best friend, Hannah, a journalist, presumes that all novels are substantially autobiographical; she sees in Ruth's books a "Hannah" character, who is the adventurer, as well as a "Ruth" character, who holds herself back. Explore the ideas of fiction and imagination and the autobiographical ingredients of writing.

    3. What is the meaning and symbolism of the "feet" photo? Why do you think it became kind of a talisman for Ruth? What emotions does the photo evoke in you as a reader?

    4. Discuss the humor and the pathos of Ted Cole's oeuvre. What about the humor and pathos of Ted himself? Where does Ted's true imagination lie—if not in his writing? Is Ted's real talent—his passion, his art—the seduction of the prettiest and unhappiest of young mothers? Doesn't Ted pursue his seductions as passionately as his daughter will pursue her writing?

    5. During that fateful summer, Eddie, the aspiring young writer, found his voice. Marion gave him his voice. "It was losing her that had given him something to say. It was the thought of hislife without Marion that provided Eddie O'Hare with the authority to write" (p. 112). Discuss the life and writing career of Eddie O'Hare: his brilliance when being truly autobiographical, and his mediocrity when it came to believability in things that were "imagined."

    6. When Ted tells Eddie the "story" of Thomas and Timothy's accident, he tells it in the third-person removed. "If Marion had ever told the story, she would have stood so close to it that, in the telling of it, she would have descended into a final madness—a madness much greater than whatever madness had caused Marion to abandon her only living child" (p. 154). Examine the madness. Discuss Ted's ability—and Marion's inability—to detach.

    7. How is Eddie, who appears as the most benign of characters, often the most powerful? For example, beginning with the restaurant "fingerprinting" scene (p. 240), he gives Ruth the gift of her past, of her mother, of other realities. How does he open the door to her future?

    8. Examine: "Ruth thought of a novel as a great, untidy house, a disorderly mansion; her job was to make the place fit to live in, to give it at least the semblance of order. Only when she wrote was she unafraid" (p. 267). Discuss the idea that the books in Ruth's life and the characters in them were more fixed in Ruth's life than the flesh-and-blood people closest to her—namely, her father and her best friend.

    9. Why do you think Ruth decides to marry Allan? Why was he so safe? How was he different from her "type" of man—a type that disturbed her so?

    10. Discuss the theme of humiliation in her novel-in-progress as well as Ruth's own unconscious quest for humiliation. Examine the themes of women, humiliation, and control. In Amsterdam, Ruth writes in her diary: "The conventional wisdom is that prostitution is a kind of rape for money; in truth, in prostitution—maybe only in prostitution—the woman seems in charge" (p. 338). What do you think of this?

    11. Examine the scene after she witnesses the murder. "At last she'd found the humiliation she was looking for, but of course this was one humiliation that she wouldn't write about" (p. 375).

    12. Examine the powerful car scene before Ted's suicide. As Ted is driving, Ruth reveals the shocking incident with Scott. Her tale is one of degradation. Does it have the desired effect on her father? What does she want? Was this scene about revenge—about giving back the hurt done to her? Can matters of families, of love and hate (her father is the one she most loves and hates in her life), ever really be understood? Of course this scene mirrors the driving scene where Ted tells Ruth the details of her brothers' death. Discuss.

    13. What changes occur in Ruth after she becomes a widow? How do these changes finally free her to fall in love at last?

    14. What kind of emotions do you feel at the ending of the book? How have the characters of Ruth, Marion, and Eddie found, in essence, their way back? How has Marion, through her books, come to terms with her grief? When she reveals to Eddie that "grief is contagious," is she effectively saying that her absence from her daughter's life was the only way she could love her or the only way she could not destroy her daughter?




    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character--a "difficult" woman.  By no means is she conventionally "nice," but she will never be forgotten.

    Ruth's story is told in three parts, each focusing on a crucial time in her life.  When we first meet her--on Long Island, in the summer of 1958--Ruth is only four.

    The second window into Ruth's life opens in the fall of 1990, when Ruth is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career.  She distrusts her judgment in men, for good reason.

    A Widow for One Year closes in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth Cole is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother.  She's about to fall in love for the first time.

    Richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force.  Both ribald and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief.

    1. A passionate and complex theme throughout the book is the concept of a writer's imagination. "Eddie O'Hare, who was doomed to be only autobiographical in his novels, knew better than to presume that Ruth Cole was writing about herself. He understood from the first time he read her that she was better than that" (p. 204). What role does imagination, lack of it, even fear of it, play in the lives and careers of the central characters?

    2. Ruth, as a novelist, sees books as inventions based on both borrowed and imagined experiences--not necessarily personal ones. However, her best friend, Hannah, a journalist, presumes that all novels are substantially autobiographical; she sees in Ruth's booksa "Hannah" character, who is the adventurer, as well as a "Ruth" character, who holds herself back. Explore the ideas of fiction and imagination and the autobiographical ingredients of writing.

    3. What is the meaning and symbolism of the "feet" photo? Why do you think it became kind of a talisman for Ruth? What emotions does the photo evoke in you as a reader?

    4. Discuss the humor and the pathos of Ted Cole's oeuvre. What about the humor and pathos of Ted himself? Where does Ted's true imagination lie--if not in his writing? Is Ted's real talent--his passion, his art--the seduction of the prettiest and unhappiest of young mothers? Doesn't Ted pursue his seductions as passionately as his daughter will pursue her writing?

    5. During that fateful summer, Eddie, the aspiring young writer, found his voice. Marion gave him his voice. "It was losing her that had given him something to say. It was the thought of his life without Marion that provided Eddie O'Hare with the authority to write" (p. 112). Discuss the life and writing career of Eddie O'Hare: his brilliance when being truly autobiographical, and his mediocrity when it came to believability in things that were "imagined."

    6. When Ted tells Eddie the "story" of Thomas and Timothy's accident, he tells it in the third-person removed. "If Marion had ever told the story, she would have stood so close to it that, in the telling of it, she would have descended into a final madness--a madness much greater than whatever madness had caused Marion to abandon her only living child" (p. 154). Examine the madness. Discuss Ted's ability--and Marion's inability--to detach.

    7. How is Eddie, who appears as the most benign of characters, often the most powerful? For example, beginning with the restaurant "fingerprinting" scene (p. 240), he gives Ruth the gift of her past, of her mother, of other realities. How does he open the door to her future?

    8. Examine: "Ruth thought of a novel as a great, untidy house, a disorderly mansion; her job was to make the place fit to live in, to give it at least the semblance of order. Only when she wrote was she unafraid" (p. 267). Discuss the idea that the books in Ruth's life and the characters in them were more fixed in Ruth's life than the flesh-and-blood people closest to her--namely, her father and her best friend.

    9. Why do you think Ruth decides to marry Allan? Why was he so safe? How was he different from her "type" of man--a type that disturbed her so?

    10. Discuss the theme of humiliation in her novel-in-progress as well as Ruth's own unconscious quest for humiliation. Examine the themes of women, humiliation, and control. In Amsterdam, Ruth writes in her diary: "The conventional wisdom is that prostitution is a kind of rape for money; in truth, in prostitution--maybe only in prostitution--the woman seems in charge" (p. 338). What do you think of this?

    11. Examine the scene after she witnesses the murder. "At last she'd found the humiliation she was looking for, but of course this was one humiliation that she wouldn't write about" (p. 375).

    12. Examine the powerful car scene before Ted's suicide. As Ted is driving, Ruth reveals the shocking incident with Scott. Her tale is one of degradation. Does it have the desired effect on her father? What does she want? Was this scene about revenge--about giving back the hurt done to her? Can matters of families, of love and hate (her father is the one she most loves and hates in her life), ever really be understood? Of course this scene mirrors the driving scene where Ted tells Ruth the details of her brothers' death. Discuss.

    13. What changes occur in Ruth after she becomes a widow? How do these changes finally free her to fall in love at last?

    14. What kind of emotions do you feel at the ending of the book? How have the characters of Ruth, Marion, and Eddie found, in essence, their way back? How has Marion, through her books, come to terms with her grief? When she reveals to Eddie that "grief is contagious," is she effectively saying that her absence from her daughter's life was the only way she could love her or the only way she could not destroy her daughter?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4
    ( 115 )
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 115 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted August 17, 2005

      Irving's finest novel to date.

      'A Widow for One Year' is arguably John Irving's best novel, and if not that, at least a shining example of a writer at the peak of his powers. Make no mistake, however: John Irving is a 19th-century storyteller. He is concerned with character development through the passage of time, so there is no discernable plot to speak of. Others complain about a disjointedness to the novel, yet that is the primary characteristic of the bildungsroman. Ruth Cole is Irving's strongest and most frustrating character she is never entirely likable, nor are her family and friends exactly 'normal.' A bit of suspension of disbelief might be necessary for some readers, but that's part in parcel with the novel's brilliance whether we acknowledge it or not, life is full of tragedy and coincidence. A cynic's view is to dismiss such contrivances as hokey, yet the true storyteller delights not in hokum but in the patent absurdity of human existence. Our individual navigation through the ridiculous happenstances which people our lives to Irving clearly our most valuable characteristics. Irving paints in broad strokes, casting his characters' lives over sixty years. They never end up as we expect, and yet the novel's most touching moments are its conclusion, which takes place exactly as we would expect. 'A Widow for One Year' is a broad, ribald, erotic, and sublime work of art by one of our country's greatest living writers.

      10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 27, 2006

      Creative and unique story telling

      I loved this book! Irving is an excellent story teller and I was hooked from the first few pages. I love that he says something and then flashes back to explain. Sometimes he'll be telling the story and give something away that is about to happen but you forget and keep reading on and then you read about the events that lead to his forshadowing statement. Amazing story, the end was a bit of a disappointment, but most authors can't always satisfy the reader with regards to endings.

      4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 26, 2003

      An Enjoyable Read

      This is the fourth Irving novel I have read; like his other novels, the reader truly gets to know the characters throughout their lives. At times, I could not put the book down; I enjoy Irving's dry, dark sense of humor.I also love that the book takes place in Sagoponack, Long Island- the reader gets a glimpse into NY high society. If you haven't read 'The Hotel New Hampshire' yet, check out this book before 'A Widow for one Year.'

      4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted January 31, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      Viewing a Writer's Soul

      Irving's novel is compelling and provocative. His writing style presents beautifully composed prose that is intellectually stimulating as well as readable. This novel presents characters who reflect the shadows with which many of us live. The novel progresses as they search for meaning and fulfillment.

      3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 11, 2012

      Entertaining and Moving - It will leave you looking to buy your next Irving novel.

      John Irving creates characters and moments that stay with the reader long after you finish reading. His novels, however, are not for the faint of heart, and the plots are so intricate that they virtually defy explanation (at least no description I could provide would do his novels justice). No author can write a more shocking or disturbing scene - and Irving can create shocking and disturbing scenes that leave the reader either wiping away tears of laughter or gaping in horror. Irving thinks of everything as he constructs his scenes and develops his characters, and the result is an extremely richly detailed, and satisfying story. Every time I finish an Irving novel, my most difficult decision is which one to read next. A Widow for One Year is not my favorite Irving novel (see The World According to Garp for that), but it is still a tremendous, moving, and highly enjoyable story. To understand though, you just have to read it.

      2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted May 17, 2010

      Excellent

      Terrific and still fresh after a bunch of years. Truly a pleasure to read, so incredibly vivid and well rendered. Definitely recommend.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 12, 2009

      Stupid book, needs better plot and easier writing style.

      I didn't like the book. Frankly the book wasn't able to be followed. I wouldn't recommend this garbage to anyone. I don't know why it was a #1 bestseller.

      2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 7, 2005

      Absorbing and Intriguing

      A Widow for One year is a wonderful story and novel. It is a deeply moving and complicated story about a dyfunctional family, and the friends who get involved. John Irving does a fantastic job of navigating the reader through the tangled, complicated web of characters with ease. There are very emotional, dramatic parts that makes one want to keep reading and find out what happens. For instance, the scene in which Ted Cole tells Eddie about the death of his sons is so moving one cannot put the book down until it is finished. Grief and healing from pain are heavily emphasized in this story. The downside of this novel, though, is that the only people John Irving seems to know to write about in this story are writers. Every single one of the characters are writers- Ted, Eddie, Marion, Ruth, Hannah, plus numerous others. That makes the story incredibly unbelievable. I know it is just a story, but that part made it a little silly. It also seems to reflect John Irving's ego about writing. I would assume that in reality, writers have a variety of friends and associate with people of many different careers. The other thing is the Irving takes a great amount of pages to unfold a subplot with a certain meaning, and then at the end sums it up in one sentence. That tactic seems to be used a lot with modern authors. They use it because they don't think the readers will 'get it.' But in essence, it is derogatory. Aside from those two issues, it was a really excellent novel, with deep meaning. I recommend it to anyone who wants to spend a weekend curled up with a book.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted March 3, 2004

      Excellent book, fun, rich characters

      This is a wonderful book full of quirky characters and intricately woven details. This is a must read! Best last line in context of the book as a whole. Read it then pass it on to your friends.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 3, 2004

      Time does stop!

      This is a love story for those who still believe in love. It's a story about constance and Wertheresque romance (only one in which the idiotic - in Dostoevsky's sense - protagonist can hold on). Love is here indeed a mystery, and we're not to ask why it is (see above review - why does Ruth love Allen?). I must admit that I was more drawn to Eddie's story than to that of Ruth (personal reasons), but part of the wonder of this novel lies in the fact that we don't find just one story. This very complexity is a welcome element in the world of American literature where story lines are often insultingly monotonous. From Irving I've also read the much underrated Hotel New Hampshire, which I can say unabashedly is one of the best novels I've ever read. A Widow for One Year, while it may not rank with Hotel New Hampshire from a strictly literary standpoint, is nevertheless both a good novel and a profound love story.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 21, 2003

      a very good read!

      Irving is a master at storytelling. He made me laugh and criticize the characters as if they were real people. All of the italics were a bit exhausting, but that is all that I had a problem with. This was my 1st John Irving novel, but most definitely not the last.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 8, 2014

      Dsappointed


      Take out the middle 200 pages

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 14, 2014

      Tedious

      Started off great but got extremely tedious as it dragged on way too long and the plot scattered in different directions unnecessarily. Overdescriptive ruminations...I didnt like it. I got bored in the middle. Its not necessary to overwrite a novel. This one disappointed me.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 29, 2013

      Hmmm

      This story lacked the ability to make me connect with the characters. It was surprising, after reading A Prayer for Owen Meany. That was a book that gripped my emotions. This book started out well in the beginning and then just sort of fell flat and spun in too many silly directions afterwards. I didn't care for it.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 30, 2012

      Highly

      A highly complex and complicated story as only John Irving can tell it. Lots of plot lines, stories within stories, novels within the novel; you'll experience every emotion from heart wrenching to hilarity. If you like John Irving, you'll love miss this one. If you've not read him before, you'll be a new convert after this! You'll regret it if you don't.!

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    • Posted July 14, 2012

      John Irving is one of the best authors I have ever read. It caus

      John Irving is one of the best authors I have ever read. It caused me to overlook some of the more uncomfortable topics this novel addressed, and it was still one of the most enjoyable stories I have ever read.

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    • Posted July 1, 2012

      Good movie

      I'm still waiting for my refund on this book.

      0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 29, 2012

      With “A Widow for One Year,” John Irving has created

      With “A Widow for One Year,” John Irving has created yet another group of compelling characters with all of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, tragedies, life problems, and baffling sense of optimism that we have come to expect from characters in a John Irving novel. He has also done what he does best—he puts those characters into no-win situations and somehow convinces us that they have figured out a way to win. And he does it with incomparable skill, scathing honesty, and dry, genuine humor.

      Just about every character in this novel is a writer, and they all grapple with writerly problems—most notably, the distinction between what happens in their “real” lives and what happens in their fiction. As Irving shows, despite most writers’ protestations to the contrary, they draw quite heavily on their real-life experiences as they create their fictional tales. Although this should come as absolutely no surprise to even the most casual fans of fiction, what is surprisingly eye-opening is the degree to which writers (at least the ones in this novel) are obsessed with the phenomenon of attempting to compartmentalize reality and fiction, as if they were two utterly different realms. Again, as Irving himself shows, the distinction is arbitrary—real-life can often seem life fiction, and the best fiction rings as true (if not truer) than reality.

      Ted Cole, Marion Cole, Ruth Cole, and Eddie O’Hare compose a family of writers whose lives are defined by the fictions they create—both the kind they publish and the kind they tell themselves in order to survive—and the tragedies that befall them. Although the tragedies vary in scope from the profound (the death of sons) to the mundane (bad luck with boyfriends), each tragedy creates an absence that becomes a presence in the lives of the characters. And despite the interesting and absorbing plot that Irving develops around his characters—who stand with the characters from Garp, Cider House, and Owen Meany as the best Irving has ever created—the presence of absence is Irving’s real subject here. Once again, Irving—one of the best contemporary storytellers—tells us a story that we need to hear.


      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 25, 2011

      It the only book I ever threw away after I read it

      Uhh I just didn't like it

      0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted October 15, 2011

      more from this reviewer

      One of my favorite books ever

      I truly loved this book

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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