on March 26, 2004
A Widow for One Year has become my favorite John Irving novel. Many of his other works, while enjoyable, have put me off a little because the characters and plot are a bit over the top. This offering, while imaginative and entertaining, never gets to that stage. It's a big novel, spanning about forty years and has a satisfying, yet never hokey or corny ending. The characters, of course, are a bit quirky in their way, but said quirkiness is somehow more believable than in Irving's other novels. The story is a lot of fun and, because most of the characters are writers, allows Irving to explain and comment on the writing process. I sometimes felt he was answering his own critics while discussing the criticism of his character-writers. However, he has fun with the whole thing and never takes it too seriously, which is part of what makes this novel fun and enthralling. A Widow for One Year is a human story about loss and how far some of us would go for love. Highly recommended...
on November 12, 2002
My take on this book is that Irving is speaking to us via the main character, Ruth Cole. She reminds us in many instances that an author is not to be so easily judged by what his/her characters do. They are the author's characters and will do whatever the author wishes, but this cannot be assumed to be an endorsement of any particular political point of view. I think Irving was writing to make this point throughout the book; it's just a story, and the characters make decisions that have life-altering impacts, but it's just a story that follows it's characters to whatever ends their choices lead them.
I loved the book not really because of my take above, but because every few pages Irving tosses in something that is spectacularly thought-provoking. The book was well-plotted, and you did wonder how it would end. The characters learned lessons and lived their lives. Along the way, Irving was able to give you something valuable to think about at every turn. I value that greatly about all his writing.
on April 8, 2002
I threw down Franzen's The Connections and Delillo's Underworld in disgust, after an hour's hard effort each. I had a bad cold and was looking for the company of a good book to help distract me. I should have known that John Irving is always good company. That's what I always look for, the august company of a good storyteller who is going to do just that "tell me his story."
Don't miss this book. It has it all, good story, good characters, enough mystery and anticipation to keep looking ahead, enough sex to be contemporary, enough surprises to wake you up out of your own stale conjectures, some warm comedy to be good company, some real tragedy to touch the heart. And I think it taught me a lot that I can use in writing my own novel.
Then for fun I logged on here to read some reviews. I had to laugh at the supercilious statements of some of the editorial reviewers who are grasping at straws trying to find something to criticize. Got pen?
I'm serious about this being a good guide to how to write a novel--it's in the very bones of the book. I got a six-figure advance for my first non-fiction book, Depression is a Choice, published by Hyperion, and now I am starting a novel myself, which probably I will have to sell under a pen name since it is hard to be a cross-over author. Before my non-fiction sale,I was already an author of 5 children's book which I downplayed as "self-published," in order not to be typecast. And before I was a book author I was and still am a cognitive behavioral therapist. I toy with the idea sending my first 50 pages to this author for his remarks but of course I wouldn't presume to do so. I'll just struggle along like every other author has to do. Win by the word or lose by the word--a mind in the hand of fate. It is a worthy path.
on February 1, 2005
This book is for sure an intellectual read as well as hilarious. The characters of Eddie and Hannah (especially their trip together stuck in a car) always made me laugh. An exciting read as well as interesting! It really is a certain type of book for a certain type of person. If you are very proper, don't read this book!
on April 17, 2004
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.
on April 7, 2002
A Widow for One Year is John Irving at his best. The story trails Ruth at three different stages in her life: as a 4 year old, a young woman, and a fortysomething.
Ruth is born into a family in stages of turmoil: her famous writer father Ted cheats on her beautiful lonely mother, Marion, who starts an affair with his 16-year-old assistant Eddie, who never gets over Marion even as he befriends Ruth in her later life. All of this stems from the fact that Ruth had two older brothers who died a tragic death years before she was born.
As Ruth grows up and becomes a writer herself (as does Eddie), their lives intertwine and relationships with her father and other characters develop, including an interesting terrifying episode in Amsterdam.
Like in "The World According to Garp", which also featured a character who was a writer, Irving takes the writer's own fiction and injects it into his own text, so there is a story-within-a-story, but it all connects and makes the book even richer.
on March 17, 2002
Even though this book is drenched in sex, it is not about sex, at least in its more common role of titillation. Rather, the sexual desires and acts of the main characters are used to reveal each person. Sex is the (mostly) sordid backdrop to the real story.
Which leads to the question, what is the real story? Certainly it is about Ruth Cole becoming a woman. She is introduced to us as a four year old child when she is an innocent bystander to the train wreck of her parent's marriage that summer. The story then resumes thirty-two years later, when Ruth is a successful writer known throughout the States and Europe. She works through many life themes in her books, without actually experiencing them, until she has her own series of transformative experiences. After detailing the critical event of her childhood, the remainder of the book follows Ruth's journey.
But as rings form around a stone tossed in a pond, other stories encircle Ruth's. Ruth's parents each have their own unbearable grief that mark Ruth's life like bookends. Her two closest friends, Hannah, and then Eddie, are also laid bare. Even her father's gardener has a story to tell.
Like many of Irving's books, this one also contains an unbearable tragedy at its center. While the wounds fester for much of the book, they are eventually abraded and allowed to begin to heal. If you are a fan of Irving, you will not be disappointed with this book.
on March 5, 2002
In this fascinating story, John Irving's amazingly quirky imagination and incredibly solid storytelling are on great display. We live through the lives of the Cole family from 1958 to the mid-90's through tragedy, divorce, bad relationships, hysterical bizarre situations and exotic European locales.
Irving has the ability to develop characters through actions and thoughts until they are as real, warts and all, as any real person can be. Like a roller coaster, he also leads the reader through a complex and constantly evolving plot, with twists and turns that are happy and sad and tragic and ridiculous.
I loved Marion as a characte because she was so mysterious and so sexy. I loved Ted because he was basically an immoral guy, but still strangely likeable. Ruth was an interesting character because of her fame and her work as a writer. In a way, I felt that I was getting insights into how Irving writes as I read about her. The other characters, from the clam truck driver, to Minty to Penny, the frame shop owner were tremendously imaginative and fun.
My only criticism is that after Marion leaves, Eddie becomes disconnected from the story. We look in on him occasionally, and he has to stay involved so that Marion can return, but otherwise, he isn't as interesting as he was in the beginning.
This is one of the finest novels I've ever read. Fantastic.
on February 8, 2002
I really like this book (as well as other Irving books) because I can so vividly see the characters, how the look, act, what thier motivations are, etc. I have to agree with others, it is kind of boring, it's not a real page turner with excitement, and the repetition of the hanging pictures theme is a bit much. But, the in-depth detail of watching someone's life is engrossong, and, by seeing some of the life-changing events, builds great understanding for the characters. Eddie is stuck as a coming of age teenager even in his 50's, Ruth is tuff as nails externally, but is meek internally, forever worrying about her child and husbands, never doing the daring until she was forced, etc. You even see the gardener develop as a person.
Widow is not as strange of a story as most of the Irvings I've read, but it still raises an eyebrow for plot. Another farce of society's views, Irving satires normal life gone astray with grief, sorrow, and memories. And, again, Irving writes about writers, and gives examples of thier writing. I think that's amazing, to see your character you're writing so strongly as to be able to express charcters views though their writing... Cool.
on December 23, 2001
A Widow for One Year has got to be my favorite John Irving novel. Many of his others, while I have enjoyed them, have put me off a little because the characters and/or the plot is a bit over the top, just too quirky for me. Widow, while imaginative and entertaining, never gets to that too much stage. It's a big novel, spanning about 40 years and has a satisfying, yet never hokey or corny ending. The characters, of course, are a bit quirky in their way, but their quirkiness is somehow more believable than in other Irving novels. The story is a lot of fun, and, because most of the characters are writers, allows Irving to explain and comment on the writing process. I felt at some times he was answering his own critics while discussing the criticism of his character-writers. He has fun with the whole thing, though, and never takes it too seriously, which is part of what makes this novel so enjoyable. Widow is really a human story about loss and how far some of us will go for love. Enjoy.