A Widow's Story: A Memoir

Joyce Carol Oates

A Widow's Story: A Memoir

On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray was dead from a hospital-acquired virulent infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced – totally unprepared – with the reality of widowhood. A Widow's Story is about one woman's struggle to comprehend a life absent of the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of "death duties," and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief – the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous "pools" of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow's desperation – only gradually yielding to the recognition that "this is my life now." 3.2 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
A Widow's Story: A Memoir

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Family & Lifestyle
Format Hardback
Pages 450
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication March 2011
ISBN 978-0007388165
Publisher Fourth Estate
 

On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray was dead from a hospital-acquired virulent infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced – totally unprepared – with the reality of widowhood. A Widow's Story is about one woman's struggle to comprehend a life absent of the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of "death duties," and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief – the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous "pools" of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow's desperation – only gradually yielding to the recognition that "this is my life now."

Read an extract from the book | harpercollins.com

Reviews

The Observer

Kate Kellaway

...within 60 pages he is gone — and the book is more than 400 pages long. What is going to happen now? But that is also Joyce Carol Oates's question. It is every widow's question. And it is her brilliant achievement to take us through the wasteland, the non-story that follows in a way that is as gripping as any thriller ... This is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time. One is with her, every inch of the way, as if her story were one's own.

06/03/2011

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The Washington Post

Valerie Sayers

Is it perverse to suggest that Joyce Carol Oates's memoir of widowhood is as enthralling as it is painful? ... There is of course a voyeuristic component to reading of her terror, but Oates is fully, ironically aware that we live in an "age of memoir." Readers will be more grateful for than titillated by her willingness to strip bare what is so well-hidden in our culture: how great grief threatens the very soul.

13/02/2011

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The Financial Times

Elaine Feinstein

The reader is mesmerised … Joyce Carol Oates writes like a force of nature, and a story emerges, as if organically, from the physicality of her grief.

07/03/2011

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The New York Times

Ann Hulbert

...a cascade-of-consciousness that will mostly mesmerize you and surely move you... Unmediated though her memoir’s fragments feel, Oates also — by habit or design — knows how to impart tragic momentum. It is almost as though she herself has become one of her often ill-fated female fictional characters, cast from blind innocence into gothic turmoil.

17/02/2011

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The Daily Mail

Bel Mooney

In the US, there has been some criticism (or at least puzzlement) about the fact that Joyce Carol Oates has published a memoir of grief, omitting the fact that ... during that period she had already met and married another man ... My reservation about the omission has nothing to do with questioning the truth of her grief, but with the integrity of the narrative as a whole. No matter — perceptive, moving and oddly entertaining, A Widow’s Story takes us on a passionate journey into the nature of loss and the mystery of love.

04/03/2011

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The New York Times

Janet Maslin

This book’s timeline includes the facts that Mr. Smith died on Feb. 18, 2008, less than a month before his 78th birthday, and that it took Ms. Oates more than a year and a half to remove his voice from their telephone answering machine. It does not say that by the time he had been dead for 11 months, Ms. Oates was happily engaged to Dr. Charles Gross, the professor of neuroscience who became her second husband in 2009 ... A book long and rambling enough to contemplate an answering-machine recording could have found time to mention a whole new spouse.

13/02/2011

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The Economist

The Economist

In Ms Oates’s hands this desolate thrum is highly readable. But it is a shame that the book is so exclusively about grief as it is felt in the moment — relentlessly, redundantly — with little insight into the decades that came before. It will inevitably be compared with that other recent memoir of widowhood, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Yet the difference is stark. Where Ms Didion distilled her trauma into an artfully melancholic meditation on symbiosis lost, Ms Oates’s book feels more like a hasty act of personal therapy.

10/02/2011

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The Sunday Times

Stephen Amidon

One reason Oates’s memoir fails to deliver its promise is the nature of Ray’s passing. Some accounts of loss come with inbuilt pathos, such as with the death of a child. Here, however, we are presented with the loss of a 77-year-old man who had lived a full, happy life, married to a famous writer and residing in one of America’s finest towns. His death by natural causes is a shame, but it’s not a pity. So it is incumbent upon the author to make us understand why we are taking the time to read about this event. This is something Oates fails to do.

06/03/2011

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