Hoosier's Reviews > A Widow's Story

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates
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May 11, 11

Read in April, 2011

After reading the 400+ pages of "A Widow's Story" written by Joyce Smith, aka Joyce Carol Oats (JCO), I have no idea whether JCO intended to write a book to honor the memory of her husband, Ray; to talk about her life as a widow; or to recount her various successes. While JCO does a beautiful job, at times, discussing the aftermath of her life after Ray's death, the unclear focus of the book detracts from the story. I have difficulty recommending this book unless one wants to learn more about JCO's life.

The book begins with JCO's recount of a trip she took to the hospital to visit Ray. At the end of the brief hospital trip, JCO finds an extemely rude letter that had been left on her windshield that serves to shed light on the insensibility of some people to the hardships of others. She describes her thoughts on this note in a short paragraph at the end of the chapter. I found that these personal stories inserted by JCO in italics at the end of many chapters were the most enjoyable part of the book. For example, JCO showed insight when she described that many widows may call their home voicemail after their husband's death only to hear their husband's voice on the voicemail recording.

JCO describes herself as an independant women who lived a life apart, both mentally and physically, from her husband. JCO visited Ray in the hospital everyday for only short periods of time and she and Ray worked on their own projects during most of those visits. JCO took many business trips away from Ray during their marriage and they only ever shared good news with each other for fear of hurting the other person with bad news. After Ray's death, however, JCO contemplates suicide and devotes over half of the book to her suicidal ideation. I therefore found it difficult to reconcile the post-Ray JCO with the pre-Ray JCO.

Furthermore, I cannot determine if JCO comprises her morals only due to the devastation she suffers from Ray's death or she truly is a callous person. For example, JCO throws away most of the sympathy gift baskets that she receives, even before opening them, and does not read many of the condolence notes sent to her. She describes people that send her books to review or comment on as "predator sharks" and cannot believe that "their naivete in imagining that any publication of theirs, any achievement, will make the slightest difference in their lives, or in the lives of others." JCO also forgets to let one of her elderly cats in on a cold night and the cat dies from frostbite.
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