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The Widow's Children: A Novel

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  210 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
"Chekhovian…Every line of Fox's story, every gesture of her characters, is alive and surprising."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

On the eve of their trip to Africa, Laura Maldonada Clapper and her husband, Desmond, sit in a New York City hotel room, drinking scotch-and-sodas and awaiting the arrival of three friends: Clara Hansen, Laura's timid, brow-beaten daugh
Published October 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 1976)
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Laura J. W.
May 18, 2012 Laura J. W. rated it it was amazing
Claustrophobic, yes...intense, yes...brutal, yes...awesome, yes...I can envision Liz Taylor and Richard Burton seething with passion, knocking back drinks, and tearing into each other and everyone present in grim black and white. You'd like to believe that it is impossible for people to be so cruel to one another, but they if they don't know any better, and truth be told, they probably don't and to make it worse, they don't want to try to do better, to be better. As odd as the ending wa ...more
Sep 04, 2015 Kallie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys intense, psychological novels and great writing
Shelves: novel-contemp
I have just read this novel for the third time (I'm on a Paula Fox kick lately) and appreciate it more than before, maybe because I am now used to Fox's forthright depiction of characters, how hers catch themselves out in attitudes. In this case, Laura, the character that frightens all the others is the one who will distort and pronounce upon the others' weaknesses out loud, mercilessly and triumphantly. A genius at bullying, she appears to be all impulse, without the slightest self-consciousnes ...more
Cay Fortune
Aug 19, 2015 Cay Fortune rated it really liked it
This was a great book, very well-written, and the characters were well-flushed out. However, I felt I was reading the script for a play. The only part which was different from a script was the narrative between the dialogue. After googling Paula Fox and discovering her own history was very bleak, I could see why Laura, the mother, wasn't able to behave like a stereotypical mother. She had abandoned her daughter, Clara, to be raised by the grandmother, Alma. The family had such dysfunction with s ...more
Greg Gerke
Aug 26, 2008 Greg Gerke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Five people circling around each other like wasps. In the first few pages all of the characters are well defined before they meet for drinks and dinner. The mother Laura finds out her mother has died and keeps this secret from her husband, brother and daughter-raised by this now dead Spanish grandmother. Why would someone hold something like this back? This is not just about a mother and daughter but about the three male characters as well, especially Peter Rice, the editor friend. It becomes hi ...more
Feb 24, 2015 Peter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-literary
The Widow’s Children (1976), Paula Fox’s fourth novel of human angst and family dysfunction, is viewed as one of the best novels that’s never been read. To date, my candidate for Best Novel in the English Language has been John Williams’ Stoner; The Widow’s Children is right up there. Perhaps the problem is that when a book is just too good its audience is too narrow. John Williams was just as little-read as Paula Fox, and both have only recently come back to the light.

In only 200 pages, and co
Mar 26, 2010 Claire rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was one of the most oppressive books I've ever read, but still it gets two stars because it was so well-executed (four-star execution, I'd say). And, I have to applaud Paula Fox for her willingness to present such difficult characters and such an unrelenting narrative. Still, though, I eked no pleasure of any kind out of this book, but it does make me want to read other books of hers, that hopefully aren't quite so dreary.
Feb 28, 2015 John rated it really liked it
Stylistically, Fox creates an oppressive atmosphere of an intergenerational family and one close family friend who gather before the central character, Laura, and her second husband depart on a transatlantic cruise. The appeal of the novel is the way in which Fox revolves the narrative around Laura, flitting from viewpoint to viewpoint and building the family's Spanish-Cuban past forward to the daughter, Clara, who was raised by her grandmother while her parents skittered around the globe.

The n
I read about Fox as a "writer's writer" in a book review somewhere--probably The New Yorker--and decided to check her out. She has a unique style and a gift for creating atmosphere and delineating interior spaces. Her characters are fascinating and somewhat repulsive eccentrics. Until the last 20 pages or so, I was loving this book, but the end was a let down.
Feb 10, 2013 Nathalie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, woman
This claustrophobic book is about having a charismatic bitch for a mother/sister/wife/friend and how it affects everybody around her. I read it was pretty much based on Paula Fox's own relationship with her mother and although you can't actually feel sympathy for any of the characters it does sound like a hell of a family.
May 23, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-canon
Half-way through, I am enraptured by the psychological tensions about a simple activity of having dinner with difficult family relations. Paula Fox exquisitely writes.

Full review to come.
Tom Johnson
Jul 31, 2016 Tom Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
/ Paula's own story set in fiction. Later appearing as her memoir, Borrowed Finery. Her mom serving as the template for Laura the Terrible. And Desmond Clapper and Ed Hansen tag teaming as soaky old dissipated dad. It's a good idea to read BF before reading TWC. / When you know you're life is held bootless; page 41, "Clara was used to not finishing sentences." Because, the one who had just condescended to make conversation with her, lost interest and wandered away, leaving poor Clara conversing ...more
Aerial Nun
Jun 26, 2010 Aerial Nun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Paula Fox, where have you been all my life? I must read more by this author. Biting, incisive prose. Gorgeous language. No-holes-barred cruelty. Fiction the way I love it.
Sep 09, 2008 Molly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book is brutal. From the opening pages I was doing my best to stick with it to see if it got any better. It got worse. I dreaded having to read about these miserable and annoying characters. I have the hardest time bringing myself to ever give up on a book but should have with this one. It just wasn't for me. I was surprised since I remember her childrens' books fondly.

A bizarro "mother" with serious issues requests the presence of one of her brothers, her daughter (whom she abandoned as a
May 22, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it
Her writing is so tight and clean. Every word is perfectly selected to depict so much meaning with so few words. The dysfunctional family is more overtly messed up and the social commentary is more explicit than in "Desperate Characters", making the emotion more raw and difficult to read. Again, it isn't a pleasant story but it says a lot. One line sums up the premise, "Families hold each other in an iron grip of definition. One must break the grip somehow." (p 98)
This one was a challenge for me. I can't decide how to rate this because for much of this book, I was frustrated and discomfited and did not like spending time with this family in the claustrophobic hotel room and restaurant. Which is pretty much the point of this story. But it was compelling in a way I can't describe. Paula Fox' writing has that effect on me. It keeps me at a distance, it seems cold, and it puts me off but still I read on. I don't know if it is good but it is something. I'll ha ...more
Feb 23, 2015 Drew rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Tightly written, expertly crafted, and (intentionally?) claustrophobic.
I didn't "get" it, in that wonderful way that I sometimes don't "get" a poem but still appreciate its beauty.
May 31, 2015 Martina rated it it was amazing
Beautifully crafted. A quick read and well worth your time.
Feb 08, 2016 Paula rated it it was ok
He sido incapaz de conseguir que me interesara la historia. No he llegado a entender por qué los personajes (totalmente histriónicos y, en mi opinión, excesivos) actúan como actúan. He pasado todo el libro esperando un revelador final que explicase cómo han llegado a esa situación pero si lo ha habido yo no lo he sabido entender.
Apr 05, 2008 Swati rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about a family who is trying to relate but cannot. Laura finds out her mother has died but decides not to tell anyone else in the family during a farewell dinner before a trip. This book is filled with accurate, interesting, and horrible characters. There's almost no one to like. It has the density and tension of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and therefore I love it. But it also goes on this way for many, many pages. Therefore I tire of it. So, I'm ambivalent about the book. Pau ...more
Mary Wivell
Nov 15, 2015 Mary Wivell rated it really liked it
Devastatingly good.
Sep 02, 2014 Tammy rated it really liked it
Virginia Walter
An elderly Spanish American woman dies, and her family members -- each dysfunctional or flawed in his or her own individual way -- respond in character, precipitating a family drama. I admired this book, but I didn't like it. The characters talk and talk and talk, like people in a Woody Allen movie. There is nobody you really care about, and the unrelenting unpleasantness of these people and their relationships is depressing.
Aug 26, 2013 Nln rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found myself admiring this writing/capture of characters without liking it very much at all. I will read Paula Fox again - Desperate Characters is loaded on the Kindle -- but I won't feel the need to revisit The Widow's Children, and I am hard pressed to recommend it. The loathsomeness of the characters rubbed off into my experience of the book, and there are better characters to spend time with.
Jul 03, 2007 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can't remember which authority figure (Ethan? Charles Baxter?) recommended this or why (for point of view switches? dialogue?) but it would be great to study for either--though I pretty much plowed through this. Dysfunctional family, shit comes out in the span of one night. Good stuff, though I liked Desperate Characters much more.
Dy Loveday
Aug 29, 2013 Dy Loveday rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reminded me of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,' with the alcohol induced outbursts, emotional tirades and repressed, claustrophobic subtext. Wonderful characterization and portrayal of dysfunctional families. Ending took a strange turn, but overall enjoyable.
Amy Ruth
The star ratings don't work well for this kind of book. I can't give it 2 stars because it's not "OK." The writing is too good for that, but this book was oppressive, suffocating, brutal in its unhappiness. I was dying for it to be over, which I suppose is the point.
Dec 08, 2014 Jamie added it
Didn't finish
Linda Campbell Franklin
One review says it's so brutal she gave it a one star. I gave it five because it is so skillfully brutal. A family, (not a nuclear family) meets in an apartment, and then goes out to dinner. I read all night.
Aug 02, 2012 Hillá rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I get why I should have read this book, but I didn't enjoy reading it. This is a less painful version of Franzen, but no one is relatable, and if you're in a bad mood, don't bother.
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Paula Fox is an American author of novels for adults and children and two memoirs. Her novel The Slave Dancer (1973) received the Newbery Medal in 1974; and in 1978, she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. More recently, A Portrait of Ivan won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 2008.

A teenage marriage produced a daughter, Linda, in 1944. However, given the tumultuous relationship wit
More about Paula Fox...

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“There was no way to grasp the reality of the present which slid away each second, invisible as air; reality only existed after the fact, in one's vision of the past.” 8 likes
“Families hold each other in an iron grip of definition. One must break the grip, somehow.” 5 likes
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