Amy's Reviews > A Widow's Story

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates
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Jan 01, 12


I must admit, I do take a bit of an issue of a book like this being rated and ranked, because it is a tale of pain as Joyce Carol Oates comes to terms with her grief, finding herself now alone, without her lifeline. How can one rate and review the pain of another and how another grieved? Particularly, or maybe especially, if one has not suffered a terrible loss themselves? Despite whether people feel she was being mean-spirited, disjointed, or maybe even a little cold, people react to loss differently and even if there is a common loss shared between two people, the way they experience that loss is always going to be different. In reading reviews for this book (on both GoodReads and Amazon), I found some of the projections that people were making on how they would handle things in comparison to how JCO dealt with her grief a little disturbing and, at times, without any real merit.

Although I have not suffered the death of a spouse, I have lived through the death of a child and of both of my parents. While reading this book, I was able to really connect with JCO as she traveled the long and lonely world of grief. The grief she writes about, her actions, her disbelief, the feelings of being numb, of feeling lost, of not knowing what to do, of trying to move forward and of being cemented to the ground, anchored because you are afraid if you move on, you will forget -- is amazing, heartbreaking, and true to life. Trying to decide where to bury someone, what kind of ceremony it should include, having to navigate through the paperwork, dealing with people who haven't experienced what you just had, and not really feeling like things have changed, knowing they have, and not being able to deal with them -- this is what death is like for someone left behind.

And trying to find the way to cope: whether it is through writing, getting on the internet and meeting total strangers, going back to work right away, or trying to just find a way to make it through the day.

While I have always been a fan of JCO's fiction, this book humanized her, in all of her good qualities and bad, in her triumphs, trials, and complete failures.

The things she recalls about certain days, the small details like getting a parking ticket, the way the nurse looked at her, the cats misbehavior - I related so well, because those are how you mark the days. It is with those small details that when everything else feels so surreal, you are brought back to reality and realize the loss really happened, you are really experiencing this, and this is really your life.

I highly commend JCO for sharing that vulnerability with others. Grieving and death is looked upon oddly in our society, especially in comparison with other cultures, and for JCO to be very honest about it, to not romanticize about it, and to say, "Hey, I'm not ok. This has left me lost. What do I do now?" is refreshing. This book, along with C.S Lewis' A Grief Observed, are probably the most honest books about life, love, death, and loss.

I highly recommend reading it without prejudice and projection, especially for those that have experienced a loss of their own. It is hauntingly comforting.
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