John Irving's 537-page novel tells the emotionally compelling story of its "melancholic main character" (p. 389), Ruth Cole, in three parts. The novel opens in 1958, when 4-year-old Ruth interrupts her 39-year-old mother, Marion Cole, having sex with a 16-year-old boy, Eddie O'Hare. It was a "sad time" (p. 54) in her parents' marriage. While the Coles suffer through the psychological impact of losing their two sons in an automobile accident, Eddie is unaware that he has been specifically hired by Marion's alcoholic husband, Ted, for the purpose of becoming Marion's lover for the summer, and that "it would have lifelong results" (p. 8) for all four characters. The Coles' personal tragedy first leads Marion to abandon her womanizing husband and infant daughter, and eventually leads Ted to commit suicide. Not surprisingly, Part Two of Irving's novel finds Ruth at age 36 attempting to cope with the emotional baggage from her childhood misfortunes, and Eddie at age 48 still longing for Marion. By 1990, both Ruth and Eddie have become established writers. However, it is not until 1995 and Part Three when, at age 41, Ruth is able to escape the depths of her lifelong misery by discovering love, and at age 53, when Eddie is finally able to confront his lifelong connection with Marion. Although Irving treats sexuality rather frankly throughout his unforgettable novel, ultimately his novel transcends the sexual realm and becomes a story about surviving personal misfortune and experiencing the healing powers of love. Irving brings his characters to life in a well-drawn story. It won't take a year--but more likely less than a week--for serious readers to discover the real wisdom in Irving's WIDOW.