A Widow's Story: A Memoir
  • A Widow's Story: A Memoir
  • A Widow's Story: A Memoir

A Widow's Story: A Memoir

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by Joyce Carol Oates

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In a work unlike anything she's written before, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates unveils a poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of her husband of forty-six years and its wrenching, surprising aftermath.

"My husband died, my life collapsed."

On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove

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In a work unlike anything she's written before, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates unveils a poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of her husband of forty-six years and its wrenching, surprising aftermath.

"My husband died, my life collapsed."

On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray died from a virulent hospital-acquired infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced—totally unprepared—with the stunning reality of widowhood.

A Widow's Story illuminates one woman's struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of "death-duties," and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief—the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous "pools" of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow's desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that "this is my life now."

Enlivened by the piercing vision, acute perception, and mordant humor that are the hallmarks of the work of Joyce Carol Oates, this moving tale of life and death, love and grief, offers a candid, never-before-glimpsed view of the acclaimed author and fiercely private woman.

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Editorial Reviews

Inevitably, readers will compare Joyce Carol Oates' memoir about the loss of her husband to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, but no comparisons are necessary between such original, piercing retrievals. Raymond Smith and Oates were, in every sense, true life companions: Married for nearly half a century, the couple shared a deep passion of literature long before they co-founded The Ontario Review thirty-six years ago. His February 2008 demise left her helpless. She told an interviewer, "Since my husband's unexpected death, I really have very little energy... My marriage—my love for my husband—seems to have come first in my life, rather than my writing." With this writing, Oates brings back her husband—and herself. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

Edward Ash-Milby

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Widow's Story

A Memoir
By Joyce Carol Oates


Copyright © 2011 Joyce Carol Oates
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-201553-2

Chapter One

The Message

February 15, 2008. Returning to our car that has been haphazardly
parked—by me—on a narrow side street near the Princeton Medical
Center—I see, thrust beneath a windshield wiper, what appears to be
a sheet of stiff paper. At once my heart clenches in dismay, guilty ap-
prehension—a ticket? A parking ticket? At such a time? Earlier that
afternoon I'd parked here on my way—hurried, harried—a jangle of
admonitions running through my head like shrieking cicadas—if you'd
happened to see me you might have thought pityingly That woman is in
a desperate hurry—as if that will do any good—to visit my husband in the
Telemetry Unit of the medical center where he'd been admitted several
days previously for pneumonia; now I need to return home for a few
hours preparatory to returning to the medical center in the early eve-
ning—anxious, dry-mouthed and head-aching yet in an aroused state
that might be called hopeful—for since his admission into the medical
center Ray has been steadily improving, he has looked and felt better,
and his oxygen intake, measured by numerals that fluctuate with liter-
ally each breath—90, 87, 91, 85, 89, 92—is steadily gaining, arrangements
are being made for his discharge into a rehab clinic close by the medical
center—(hopeful is our solace in the face of mortality); and now, in the
late afternoon of another of these interminable and exhausting hospital-
days—can it be that our car has been ticketed?—in my distraction I'd
parked illegally?—the time limit for parking on this street is only two
hours, I've been in the medical center for longer than two hours, and
see with embarrassment that our 2007 Honda Accord—eerily glaring-
white in February dusk like some strange phosphorescent creature in the
depths of the sea—is inexpertly, still more inelegantly parked, at a slant
to the curb, left rear tire over the white line in the street by several inches,
front bumper nearly touching the SUV in the space ahead. But now—if
this is a parking ticket—at once the thought comes to me I won't tell Ray,
I will pay the fine in secret.

Except the sheet of paper isn't a ticket from the Princeton Police De-
partment after all but a piece of ordinary paper—opened and smoothed
out by my shaky hand it's revealed as a private message in aggressively
large block-printed letters which with stunned staring eyes I read several
times like one faltering on the brink of an abyss—learn to park stuppid bitch.

In this way as in that parable of Franz Kafka in which the most profound
and devastating truth of the individual's life is revealed to him by a passer-by
in the street, as if accidentally, casually, so the Widow-to-Be, like the Widow,
is made to realize that her situation however unhappy, despairing or fraught
with anxiety, doesn't give her the right to overstep the boundaries of others,
especially strangers who know nothing of her—"Left rear tire over the white
line in the street."


Excerpted from A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates Copyright © 2011 by Joyce Carol Oates. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Widow's Story: A Memoir 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In February 2008, Ontario review Editor Raymond Smith was not feeling well so his wife of almost five decades noted author Joyce Carol Oates drove him to the Princeton Medical Center. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted as a patient. Both he and his spouse expected him to come home in a few days. Instead he developed an infection and died one week later. This memoir is about Ms. Oates' efforts to move on from the unexpected death of a loved one. Everything reminded her how alone she had become and how much she missed her beloved partner. Ms. Oates confesses she initially expected Raymond to appear any moment to help her with the physical and monetary impacts of his death. However, as she wept agonizingly slowly through the passes of grieving, she realized it is the little things in life that enabled Joyce Smith to survive the biggest tragedy she ever faced. This is an insightful first-hand look at grieving as Ms. Oates confirms grief is personally customized to the loving survivor. Harriet Klausner
A_reader_in_Juneau_AKEP More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it is those who have recently lost a loved one who would be attracted to this memoir. This appears to be the case from the other reviews that appear on this page. This may be because of an earnestness, a desperation, that pervades the thoughts of the bereaved. I have recently experienced a death in my family. I disclose this only for context and I will say no more about it, except to say that when I read about Ms. Oates' memoir in the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker I was immediately drawn to it. Her book does a good job of describing the personal and spiritual disintegration that occurs following a death. Two things undermine the power of this book. The first is the author's unabashed self involvement. She often refers to herself in the third person as "the widow." I cannot think of any third person self reference as not being pretentious unless it is self deprecating. If you lose someone you love dearly, your are disarmed and wounded by this death, and all roads lead to the one you have lost. Ms. Oates makes it clear that she was plenty wounded by the death of her husband, yet all roads lead to her. She soon ceases to be the victim of her bereavement and instead uses it to interpret how she perceives her life and the actions of those around her. Where for some, bereavement allows them to explore avenues of compassion toward others, especially those clumsy in conveying their sympathy, not so for Ms. Oates. She points out that practically everything and everybody is insensitive to what she is going through and woe unto those who would tread upon her anger and loss. The second is that the author is Joyce Carol Oates, a literary powerhouse who does not experience ordinary life the way the rest of us do. If she writes about a letter or a conversation with a friend or colleague, it is Edmund Wilson, John Updike, or Phillip Roth. In this way the book becomes an inroad to the literary life populated by those with the calling and considerable talent to be writers. I admit this enthralled me, but it removed her experience from my own. Yet this memoir bears its gifts for the bereaved. When the author is going through a bag of cards and letters she received after her husband's death, finally able to do so, she uncovers a gem: "You will be grief stricken for the rest of your life, but don't lose your vitality." And this, quoted in the New York Review of Books' article: "We who are living - we who have survived - understand that our guilt is what links us to the dead. At times we can hear them calling to us, a growing incredulity in their voices You will not forget me - with you? How can you forget me? I have no one but you."
Michmsnrn More than 1 year ago
This memoir was helpful to me in many ways after I have been through the loss of too many loved ones in the past 5 years. She shows wonderful depth, and insight into the world of those who have lost and are coping and attempting to integrate those losses into their lives as they move forward. That being said-this book also seems to be an outlet for several petty slights, differences with those who do not matter to the author and to those who are unable or unfortunate enough to have gotten on Mrs. Smiths (Oates) bad side (administration at the university) or unlucky enough to have sent her a condolence card. Her manners for those who attempt in their own foundling way to convey their condolence-is not forgivable. There are times where she seem to take particular joy in cutting them down via her reader. This is unprofessional and unfair. I know first hand family members who have behaved with more bravery and decency than this author when faced with 3x the tragedy. I am not going to be looking for more of her novels anytime soon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first few hundred pages were engaging...the rest took me weeks to slog through only necause i dojnt giveup on a book easily..i love this woman and what she has experienced but it became a ramble
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Joyce Carol Oates' angst is so keenly expressed that the reader becomes part of her story. It is impossible not to feel her pain, her fright at being left alone, and her second guessing about what she could have done to prevent this death. I suggested that a friend of mine who was newly widowed read this book. She was expressing the same kind of feelings about the fears of being alone, the thought that maybe there was something she missed that could have prolonged her husband's life. My friend felt somewhat relieved to have her feelings expressed by a writer we have been reading for several years. This is a book that engages women of any age.
Rebecca Bell More than 1 year ago
Joyce carol oates has written a very descriptive portral of what it feels to be a widow i lost my husband suddenly to pneumonia also. If you want to get a clear understanding of what a widow goes through when she loses her husband and the life she knew, read this book. It helped me to realize that i am not going crazy.
Lojie More than 1 year ago
I have always loved her books. She expressed what I think I would be feeling had my husband died unexpectedly. Painful but worth the time.
KHFWomanInHiding More than 1 year ago
Any time a woman writer dares to reveal the truth behind the mask, especially when it is "unseemly," she is reaching out her hand in compassion to every woman. In "A Widow's Story" Joyce Carol Oates unmasks herself, sometimes brutally, and through her courage we, the readers, are given an opportunity to see and honor the fralities of our own humanity and that of others in the face tragedy. I am truly sorry that Ms. Oates had to experience such a devastating loss, and yet so grateful that she transformed her anguish into a gift to others.
Steve Laman More than 1 year ago
very heartfelt and enlightening. one i will come back to again and again.
Kaxa More than 1 year ago
I was looking for support when I bought this book having had several deaths in the family in a short time span.  The first chapters are fine  but the material becomes very self-centered and repetitive.  I did finish the book albeit grudgingly! 
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sallyreader More than 1 year ago
I found this book quite moving. I wanted to reach out and help in some way to alleviate the bereft woman and realized I was simply a witness to the author's grief and loneliness. I was glad to see the glimmers of light and recovery as the book progressed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just could not finish this book. I lost interest  reading all the e-mails (too personal) and the poetry readings. Redundant in her use of the word "widow" pushed me over the edge. Sorry
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