Epilogue: A Memoir Paperback – Sep 1 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Grief is in two parts, writes Roiphe (Fruitful; 1185 Park Avenue). The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life. In her new memoir of late-life widowhood, she encounters the latter. Roiphe's husband, H (Herman), died of a heart attack after 39 years of marriage. He left stacks of publications forwarded from his office that she can't help reading—psychoanalytic case histories in which patients are known only by initials. She lives in a stunned, rhythmless disconnect, unsure how to mark time, sleep or stave off fear and loneliness. Thoughts of suicide comfort her as her former sense of independence evaporates. She struggles to manage her finances, decide where to live, keep up with the contents of her refrigerator and learn countless tasks that had always been H's. Courtship, sex and gender roles confound her as she ventures to date men she meets through Match.com and the personal ad that her daughters place on her behalf. She considers her role in her family, her circle of friends, her new sisterhood of widows and the broader world in which she has no right to complain. In poignant flashes of everyday moments and memories, Roiphe tells an unflinching and unsentimental story of widowhood's stupefying disquiet, of surviving love and living on. (Sept.) ""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“In poignant flashes of everyday moments and memories, Roiphe tells an unflinching and unsentimental story of widowhood’s stupefying disquiet, of surviving love and living on.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Each word seems like the individual beat of a human heart. . . . As fragile and as haunting as memory itself.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred))
“Radiates with raw emotion and is both painful to read and terrifying to consider. . . . No one can really prepare a woman for this passage in life, but Roiphe’s luminous memoir is a beacon of help and, ultimately, hope.” (Booklist)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In December 2005, Herman Roiphe ("H.," as she refers to him throughout the memoir), a well-known New York psychoanalyst, her husband of 39 years and 12 years her senior, died suddenly. Now Anne must begin her life again as a widow at the age of 69. "Grief is in two parts," she writes. "The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life. This book is about the second. Although the division between the two parts is not a line, a wall or a chasm." With that candid insight, Roiphe launches her account of the 18 months or so that followed her husband's death.
What's striking about Roiphe's situation, especially for such a highly educated, sophisticated woman, is how ill-equipped she seems to be to deal with some of the daily reality of it. Like many widows, she's mystified when it comes to financial matters ("This is his job. But he is not here and now I will do it, badly, but I will do it. Resentfully I will do it."). But she's equally at sea trying to perform even the most mundane of tasks, like fitting her key into the door of her apartment, which she always had left to her husband, or deciding which subway to take in a city where she's lived all her life. It's as if the loss of H. has rendered her disabled in some mysterious fashion.
Granted, some of the challenges Roiphe must confront are hardly the ordinary stuff of widowhood. Claiming that she's forbidden to provide details, she's left to clean up a lawsuit "for a considerable amount of money stemming from something in my husband's past." And she must deal with the blackly comic demand of her husband's ex-wife for an entire month's alimony ("the last drop of honey from the pot") for the month in which he died.
Thanks to a personal ad placed by her daughters in The New York Review of Books, and her own foray unto Match.com, Roiphe doesn't lack for male companionship (the way that e-mail has transformed dating rituals, even for senior citizens, is one of the subtexts of Roiphe's story). From the self-absorbed to the desperate, she chronicles her experiences with these men, even describing with refreshing honesty her sexual encounter with an attorney named M. The most bizarre of them (and the only one to which she does not attach an initial, a style borrowed from psychoanalytic writings) is a man from Albany, New York, who bombards her with email filled with increasingly virulent, even paranoid, right-wing propaganda. Although the two never meet, she seems oddly tempted by the notion of a relationship with him. It's puzzling that Roiphe, a passionate feminist, would have tolerated this onslaught of messages so at odds with her core beliefs for so long.
As befits an author of 15 books of fiction and nonfiction, Roiphe's voice is rich with nuance. At times she's concise and epigrammatic: "It is not a sign of normal life when the takeout deliverymen become fond of you or your tips." "If only there were a camp for us like the camps for the overweight kids advertised on the back of the New York Times Magazine." And yet she's equally capable of expressions of arresting beauty and poignancy: "Think of grief as a river that finally runs into the ocean where it is absorbed but not dissolved, pebbles, moss, fish, twigs from the smallest upland stream run with it and finally float in the salt sea from which life emerged."
By the end of her journey, Roiphe has emerged a different, stronger person. She has enrolled in a class in ancient history in the land of Israel, drawn closer to her daughters, and reconciled herself to the notion that she may never have another intimate relationship with a man. And while there are moments when she fleetingly contemplates leaping from her apartment, like the characters in John Irving's novel THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, she leaves no doubt that she'll "keep passing the open windows."
--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
Although I'm sympathetic to Rophie's loss, this book is filled with mean-spirited self-pity. Rophie owns an Upper West side co-op and a house in the Hamptons that she is able to sell after her husband's death. She's certainly in much better off than the majority of widowed women in this country (or the world, for that matter). But does her suffering give her empathy or insight into the lives of the less fortunate? No: "I have trouble staying at such a distance from myself that I can worry more about the orphans in Ethiopia that I do about who will have dinner with me tomorrow evening." Nuns and overweight teenage girls aren't the only objects of Rophie's scorn. She writes cruelly about an older woman neighbor with "yellow stained white hair" whose "back is bent over at a forty-five degree angle" with osteoporosis--"I should do more than nod and smile when I pass her. I should speak. But I don't." Much of the book is written in such short, flat uninflected sentences. Roiphe's life as a widow is one disappointment after another; her daughters live forty-five minutes away in Brooklyn and are "busy," and the men she hooks up with through New York Review of Books personal ads have protruding ears, kiss the wrong way or have messy personal histories. Even her sainted late husband comes in for criticism: "A more perfect man might have left me a life insurance policy." But there's some good news: Roiphe actually goes to the movies alone and enjoys it: "I am glad I went to the movies. I can go alone whenever I want." Much of the book is devoted to her attempts to meet men through personal ads or online. It feels sordid and a little sad. Rophie comes across as a self-absorbed woman with little insight into her own behavior.
Anne Roiphe has written about herself and life in a direct manner. That is, she doesn't hold back about what she wants nor what she's never bothered to do: which is to take care of herself. She misses her husband because he did the cooking, taxes and supported her although he didn't take out any life insurance, leaving two homes in NY, one in the Hamptons behind (which she complains is too expensive for her to keep.) She admits that she's lonely, gives up on going to the gym and dresses up to go out on countless lunches, dinners and other "dates" to meet men, some recommended, others from match.com, most of whom are (much) older than they claim.
She sounds like a difficult woman. In denial that others don't want to see her, she pursues people whom she thought were friends and is mystified when they cross the street in order to avoid contacting her. There is an air of resignation in her tone that nobody will be good enough for her. When at the same time, she can't be very bothered about her appearance, nor her attitude towards others.
Although she declaims that she loves her children, there is often a slightly edgey tone to her descriptions of them, their families, the first Seder without her husband and her sons-in-law, whom she doesn't seem quite grateful enough that THEY are taking care of her daughters. So, she comes from a generation of women who grew up in the '40's and '50's, knowing that they want to be independent, but only up to a certain point. Like many of us, even now, she wants to be taken care of by a man, and who can blame her? She doesn't find him, however, at least not yet, although she finds consolation in the act of writing about the search.
Having read memoirs written by other widows, Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates, this one stands out for its candor about herself and her life-- rather than trying to create a work of art from her loneliness as the others have done. I give her credit for that.