John Irving has yet to disappoint me with his novels! A Widow for One Year was a lot heftier than previous novels I’ve picked up from him, but it was definitely worth the extra time of dedicated reading.
You begin following Eddie’s story as he starts a summer job as Ted’s, a famous author, writing assistant. Ted and his family are suffering grief over two lost children, him and his wife Marion coping with it in various ways. The reader is thrown into the middle of Marion’s love affair with Eddie and Ted’s endless streams of women who he seduces through art. As always, Irving provides many descriptions of sex scenes, sometimes a bit disturbing, but yet so real. Instead of discussing every little physical detail, he throws the reader into the minds of the characters, presenting their every little quirk.
All while these grievous acts are occurring, this poor little daughter, Ruth, is left in the dust. You watch as her dysfunctional family falls apart around her all in a summer, hoping that maybe someone will give the girl a decent life. Her best memories lie in stories she’s told about her dead brothers through photos posted everywhere throughout their home. You never really get insight into how the little girl feels, that is, not until you learn about her in her adult life.
This summer turns out to be the most significant summer of all for both Ruth and Eddie. You’re lead into the future, about 30-40 years later, where Ruth and Eddie are both semi-famous writers. Though time has passed, things don’t seem to have changed for Eddie. Irving really drives home the concept that time does stop, and he outright says it in the end of the novel. The photographs that retold the dead brothers’ memories remain imprinted on both of their brains. Eddie still imagines himself with Marion. Ruth still hosts a scar on her finger that brings her back to the summer of despair. They’ve all been scarred in some way. Eddie copes with it by writing novels about his experiences with Marion, aging the women with each novel he writes. Ruth does so by writing about her best friend Hannah’s life, even if she claims otherwise.
Irving leads you to believe that everyone is going to end up miserable old hags, which is very fitting to the novel. I would’ve actually been content with this since the whole story led up to this, but Irving’s point of time stopping on those moments when people feel safe or loved wouldn’t ring through if he didn’t give Ruth and Eddie those moments toward the end. By doing so, he connects everything together, maybe a bit forced for Eddie and his reuniting with Marion, but not so much with Ruth’s escaping widowhood despite an old lady’s curse.
At times, I felt a bit lost about where Irving was leading the reader, since his story was so drawn out. But once you read through the entire book, it all fits together so nicely. You are sent on an emotional roller-coaster with what seems to be never-ending grief and dysfunctional relationships. It’s all worth it in the end. I give John Irving a 4 out of 5 for A Widow for One Year.