A Widow's Story: A Memoirby Joyce Carol Oates, Ellen Parker
Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before, A Widow’s Story is the universally acclaimed author’s poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-six years, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath. A recent recipient of National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award,/b>
Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before, A Widow’s Story is the universally acclaimed author’s poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-six years, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath. A recent recipient of National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates, whose novels (Blonde, The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Little Bird of Heaven, etc.) rank among the very finest in contemporary American fiction, offers an achingly personal story of love and loss. A Widow’s Story is a literary memoir on a par with The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
A wildly unhinged, deeply intimate look at the eminent author's "derangement of Widowhood."
Oates's husband, Ontario Review co-founder Raymond J. Smith, a 78-year-old man in good health, was not supposed to die. In early 2008, he was admitted to the emergency room near their home in Princeton, N.J., and diagnosed with pneumonia. Then he developed complications from an bacterial infection and died of cardiac arrest on Feb. 18, 2008. The shock of losing her husband of 48 years nearly unraveled this author of countless novels, stories and essays, as well as a longtime professor of English at Princeton. In this surreal, nearly hallucinatory journey—she was referred to the Yellow Pages for a funeral home, soon became hooked on tranquilizers to overcome insomnia and often imagined a fiendish creature she calls a basilisk jeering at her—the author chronicles the painful first months of grief and emotional paralysis. Oates (Sourland, 2010, etc.) is a master at creating the interior-driven narrative, and fashions from her experience the character of the Widow—Mrs. Smith—distraught, vulnerable, helpless without the guidance of wise friends, susceptible to crippling regrets, prone to childish self-pity and even erupting in anger at a doctor who suggested that Ray just "gave up." She also invents the character of "JCO," the professor whom she had to "impersonate" at the university, the public self, the co-editor of theOntario Reviewwho had to inform their readers and writers that the literary review had to cease publication. Oates writes with gut-wrenching honesty and spares no one in ripping the illusions off the face of death—the relentless senders of "sympathy gift baskets" clotting her home like "party food," her husband who "threw away both our lives with [his] carelessness contracting a cold" and the friends and acquaintances who mouthed wooden responses.
Oates continues to keep her readers guessing at her next thrilling effort.
- Random House Audio Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
A Widow's StoryA Memoir
By Joyce Carol Oates
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 Joyce Carol Oates
All right reserved.
February 15, 2008. Returning to our car that has been haphazardly
parkedby meon a narrow side street near the Princeton Medical
CenterI see, thrust beneath a windshield wiper, what appears to be
a sheet of stiff paper. At once my heart clenches in dismay, guilty ap-
prehensiona ticket? A parking ticket? At such a time? Earlier that
afternoon I'd parked here on my wayhurried, harrieda jangle of
admonitions running through my head like shrieking cicadasif you'd
happened to see me you might have thought pityingly That woman is in
a desperate hurryas if that will do any goodto 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-
ninganxious, dry-mouthed and head-aching yet in an aroused state
that might be called hopefulfor 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 breath90, 87, 91, 85, 89, 92is 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-
dayscan 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 Accordeerily glaring-
white in February dusk like some strange phosphorescent creature in the
depths of the seais 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 nowif
this is a parking ticketat 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 paperopened 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 abysslearn 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.
Meet the Author
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. In 2003 she received the Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature, and in 2006 she received the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award.
- Princeton, New Jersey
- Date of Birth:
- June 16, 1938
- Place of Birth:
- Lockport, New York
- B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961
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