Many of you will know that my admiration for Joyce Carol Oates is deeply held and long-standing; I buy (almost) everything she publishes and particularly look out for anything non-fictional which might give an insight into one of the most remarkable authors in terms of quality and productivity. I know I’m gushing a bit but I really do think she’s fabulous. Which is why I was really looking forward (if that’s the word) to her memoir of widowhood. I knew that her husband of many years had died suddenly and was intrigued that she had decided to write about something so personal so soon after the event.
Now, widowhood is one of those things that flutters about in the back of my mind from time to time; the Book God is eleven years older than me and statistically more likely to die before I do so I have occasionally had thoughts about what being a widow would be like (not pleasant), something that has happened more frequently recently as the Book God gets ready to retire at the beginning of June. So reading A Widow’s Story was a mixture of wanting to know something about one of my heroes plus trying to get an idea of what might be in store for me in what I hope will be the far distant future.
This book is not for everyone. JCO’s grief and pain is raw and immediate, and although the writing is as wonderful and vivid as always the content is so upsetting that I found myself only able to read in small chunks (and I can say without any doubt that this is not a book for bedtime reading), so it took me a long time to finish it and even longer to feel that I was able to write about it.
I learned that no matter how prepared you think you might be for the worst that can happen, you never actually are. I learned that even the most outwardly competent of people can fall apart inside while still keeping the show on the road. And of course, I learned that although the support of friends and family are important, the only person who can get you through something like this is yourself.
You might say that none of this is new and you are probably right, but these are things worth repeating.
So a book that is to be experienced and in my case admired rather than enjoyed, but a worthwhile reading experience.