Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates

The book's synopsis from the publisher's website:

A Widow's Story: A Memoir"My husband died, my life collapsed."
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 died from a virulent hospital-acquired infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced—totally unprepared—with the stunning reality of widowhood.
A Widow's Story illuminates one woman's struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, 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."
What a great experience reading this memoir was! Many aspects made this book worth being read by all but probably the most important is the quality of writing. To me it almost seemed like a refresher course in what English written language should really be and what many contemporary writers seem to forget. I'm talking about basic rules of grammar, construction of sentences and even meaning of words. I read A Widow's Story as an ARC, which means its editing and proofreading isn't finalized and ready for publication, and still there were very few errors, if any at all, and the whole book was in a better shape than many books served to us after being corrected and edited by others. I realize I may sound as a snob in this regard and I don't really care. It's important to me to know that someone who calls him/herself a writer knows the basic rules of grammar at least and has enough respect for the language to learn and check what they don't know. Joyce Carol Oates is a writer who exudes such respect and it's a pleasure to read what she writes. Shelf Awareness  published a great interview with  Oates's longtime friend and editor, Daniel Halpern. He states a lot more clearly what I mean about Joyce's writing.

Style, grammar and vocabulary aside, A Widow's Story is a very, very personal book that speaks much to Joyce's courage as she bares her heart and soul to us, readers. And yet, it's not a self-centered and egotistic person we meet on the pages of this memoir. Instead, it is Ray Smith, Joyce's late husband, that is at the forefront and that we learn of through the lenses of his wife's love, devotion and despair of losing him. Ms. Oates does reveal, unwittingly maybe, a lot about herself however. Here, she is Joyce Smith, the woman, the wife and the friend. Not, Joyce Carol Oates, the author. She is fragile, emotional, thinks of suicide even, but in the end she is most importantly a strong female who does persevere despite the biggest loss of her life. It's heartbreaking but beautiful at the same time, to see her struggle, her teetering on the verge of self-destruction and the victory of her will to live anyway. We, the readers know this will is there from the very beginning but  Joyce had to discover it slowly, step by step, oftentimes with the help of amazing friends.

I'm convinced I haven't written nearly enough about this memoir but I hope it's enough to encourage you to read it, especially if you want to read a memoir but you don't want a conceited, boastful  paean authors of some memoirs write to themselves. A Widow's Story is anything but that.  Do see for yourself.

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I have received an ARC of A Widow's Story from Ecco, via Shelf Awareness.