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Review: A Widow’s Story

May 18, 2012

Author Joyce Carol Oates and her husband, Raymond Smith, were married for forty-eight years when he came down with pneumonia.  When he suggested that he might want to see his doctor the next day, Oates insisted on taking him to the emergency room, where he was admitted to the hospital.  He succumed to an infection in the hospital and unexpectedly died, leaving Oates devastated and unsure of how to carry on.

A Widow’s Story is Joyce Carol Oates’ deeply personal memoir of her husband’s death and the grief that gripped her afterward.  I admire Oates for putting it all out there –  it wasn’t always easy to read, so I know it must have been painful to write.  I’ve had this book for a while – it came shortly before my father passed away – but didn’t think I could handle it when my own grief was so raw.  I’m sure it would have been upsetting at the time, but I do think reading it earlier might have helped me understand better what my mother was going through.  Of course, everyone grieves differently, but many of the stages of grief are similar for most people.

This was my first experience with Oates writing and I found it to be quiet and introspective.  The narrative shifts from the first person “I” to the third person “the widow” fairly often and I found that a little odd, but thought it was supposed to represent the out of body feeling Oates was feeling at the time.  It was a little jarring at first, but I adjusted to it quickly.

This is not a book that will leave you with a good feeling as you finish it, but it will help readers feel empathy for their friends and relatives who are grieving the loss of a spouse.  It’s difficult to say anything negative about a book that is as emotionally open and raw as this one, but I did find it to be repetitive after a while.  This is probably an accurate portrayal of a widow’s feelings, especially when the death is unexpected, but it did make the book drag in a few places.

I listened to the audio version of A Widow’s Story – it’s narrated by Ellen Parker who was the perfect fit for this book.  In my mind, her voice was the voice of Joyce Carol Oates.  The audio book runs approximately 15 hours.

Review copy provided by Harper Collins. I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
25 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2012 5:32 am

    I’m not sure I could read this. It sounds such an emotional read. I think I would be balling all the time.

  2. May 18, 2012 6:23 am

    I tried reading her fiction before, and found it too depressing, so I imagine this one would seem over the top depressing for me. Even the summary is just too sad1

  3. sandynawrot permalink
    May 18, 2012 6:27 am

    I’d definitely have to be in the right state of mind to read this, but I agree that it is an important one to read…not only for ourselves in handling grief, but understand what others might be experiencing.

  4. Beth Hoffman permalink
    May 18, 2012 7:27 am

    This sounds so depressing and sad. Interesting that she alternates from first to third person in a memoir.

  5. talesofwhimsy permalink
    May 18, 2012 8:35 am

    Oh my! That poor women. What a nightmare that must have been.

  6. May 18, 2012 9:57 am

    I think my widow’s group would have loved this book. There are many versions of grief, but rawness of emotions seems to be a common denominator. I’m adding this to my TBR list.

  7. May 18, 2012 10:22 am

    My mom was with my dad when he passed away from a sudden heart attack; they had been married 20 years. Its been 18 years since he passed and 11 years since my mom passed. I think this book would be an eye-opener into how my mom processed her grief since we never really talked about it. I went to counseling and still do but she always said no one would understand how she felt or what she was going through after dad died. I wish I had the nerve then to tell her how wrong she was; I’ve read so many books since then and gotten so much comfort reading other peoples stories about losing their parents. “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman is like a bible to me for my grief. I’m checking this out of the library right away!!

  8. May 18, 2012 10:31 am

    This one seems maybe sadder than I could deal with in audio, but so glad it mostly worked well for you, even if it was a bit repetitive.

  9. May 18, 2012 10:35 am

    Wow. I have not read her yet either but have wanted to for some time… I had no idea this was non fiction. Interested.

  10. May 18, 2012 11:42 am

    I read an excerpt of this book in The New Yorker a year or so ago and was very moved. Never considered listening, but will now.

  11. zibilee permalink
    May 18, 2012 12:00 pm

    I read this and felt that it was so moving and sad. I haven’t yet gone through a loss like that in my life, but I did gift the book to a friend who was grieving. I think the experience of reading this will be different for a grieving person vs. a non-grieving one. It was a tough read, that’s for sure, but I think it will better help me understand what my mother is going to be going through.

  12. May 18, 2012 1:26 pm

    Sounds — I hate to say ‘good’ since it’s about someone’s loss, but you know, it does sound compelling! Was this the book that got so much drama because the author didn’t mention how quickly she remarried? (Gah, I can’t remember if it was this book or another grief memoir…)

  13. May 18, 2012 3:09 pm

    Oates is one of those writers I love and hate. I think this would be an interesting read in light of my grandfather’s passing and my grandmother’s grieving.

  14. May 18, 2012 3:16 pm

    I have this book on my shelves…and I’ve been waiting until I’m in the right frame of mind. I have read several of Oates’ works…but sometimes, I find her books dark and depressing.

    I’m glad to read your thoughts on this one….I think I might be ready to take it on in a few weeks.

  15. Patty permalink
    May 18, 2012 3:16 pm

    I love your choices…I used to read her work but I haven’t in a while. I am not sure if I want to read this one…

  16. May 18, 2012 3:47 pm

    I agree with your review. I listened to this one as I walked each morning and I found it draining.

  17. May 18, 2012 3:54 pm

    I read Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and loved it. Of course, I was in that pensive frame of mind best suited to these kind of memoirs. I’m not so sure I could get through something like this now…

  18. May 18, 2012 4:31 pm

    I have never read a book by her, but perhaps one day. You never know

  19. May 18, 2012 4:38 pm

    This sounds very touching. JCO is a wonderful writer.

  20. May 18, 2012 6:01 pm

    I have only read one collection of her short stories so far and have heard some amazing things about this book. I’m not sure I’m at a place to read this one quite yet, but it will be something I keep in the back of my brain.

  21. May 18, 2012 8:55 pm

    15 hours of grief is quite a lot. It’s hard for me to even think about her devastation. I’m glad that you are better able to understand your mother because of it though. That’s what good books do.

  22. Staci@LifeintheThumb permalink
    May 20, 2012 1:45 pm

    This book sounds like it could also help someone else who has a spouse die unexpectedly. One of my friends from work lost her husband out of the blue two years ago and sometimes I know she is just overcome with grief.

  23. May 21, 2012 11:01 am

    I circled around even this review for a while, afraid to read it. Perhaps I should circle the book more quickly, so that if it gives me insight into what my mother is going through, I can do something to help, or at least not make it worse.

  24. May 22, 2012 8:31 pm

    I have this one too but have been avoiding it as well for similar reasons. I think I shall make the time to read it soon. It sounds so raw and personal.

  25. May 24, 2012 10:01 am

    The Widow’s Story suffers in comparison with The Year of Magical Thinking, which is just an amazing piece of writing, even apart from the subject matter. I felt that Joan Didion’s book was written in loving memory of her husband and Joyce Carol Oates’ stemmed from the stunned feeling of “how did this happen to me”, and while both experiences of grief are perfectly valid, I think that Joan Didion’s book turned out to be more memorable.

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