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The Widow's Children

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  278 ratings  ·  48 reviews
First published in 1976, The Widow's Children, with its unpalatable family wistfully gnashing at one another, has long defied critical description. Now that it's been rereleased, with a fine new introduction by Andrea Barrett, it's time again for readers to approach this spare--yet unsparing--novel. Approach with something like terror, or at least a tremulous respect, for ...more
Published (first published 1976)
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3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  278 ratings  ·  48 reviews


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Laura J. W.
Jun 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 are...as 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
Frabe
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Laura è una donna insensibile, dalla “suprema indifferenza”, che vive come se “il mondo fosse solo una bolla espansa di sé”. Ma tutta la sua famiglia - madre, fratelli, figlia - ha un che d’analogo: la “perversione dei Maldonada”, la definisce un amico, “gente che non ha firmato alcun contratto sociale”. Sono tutte, nella realtà, persone irrisolte, tormentate, infelici, costantemente immerse - nelle inquadrature della Fox - in atmosfere assai cupe. Il romanzo (datato 1976) è dunque pesante, e de ...more
Aatif Rashid
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A deceptively simple and ultimately unexpectedly moving novel about several members of a Spanish/Cuban-American family drinking and then going out for a tense dinner. The whole thing takes place mostly over the course of one night, and the perspective shifts with admirable fluidity in the opening chapters but eventually settles on Peter, a book editor and outsider who’s able to observe the truths that the family seeks to keep from each other. It’s a great example of dialogue written with many la ...more
Kallie
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Claire
Mar 26, 2010 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.
Melissa
Jul 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Nathalie
Jan 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Laura
May 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Laurie
Feb 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Vel Veeter
Jul 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cbr-9
Recently I had lunch with my mom. About an hour in she revealed to me that my older aunt had died, but that she was worried about mentioning it because of her own weird kind of unresolved feelings with my dad’s side of the family. She was older and quite ill, so it was not surprised or unexpected, but it weighed on my mom in a weird way.

In this novel, a middle-aged woman on the cusp of a trip out of town also sits on the news of her mother’s death hours before as she meets up with her brother an
...more
JacquiWine
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 Stars

A couple of years ago I read Desperate Characters – a 1970 novel by the American writer Paula Fox – in which a cat bite sparks a crisis in the lives of a privileged middle-class couple, setting in motion a series of events which threatens to undermine their seemingly harmonious existence. There is a crisis of sorts too in The Widow’s Children, Fox’s later novel of family dysfunction, first published in 1976. This is an acutely observed story of longstanding slights and prejudices, of th
...more
Thomas Rose-Masters
This wasn't an easy read for me, despite the admirable brevity of the book. In fact, had it been longer, i think it might have become impossible to read. It is claustrophobic, tense, laden with grand emotions and unspoken thoughts, yet it works as a sort of a Grand Guignol family drama which takes place during one highly-charged evening. Characters are larger than life, even in their timidity, but in a way that makes so much sense, and the deeper one gets steeped into the strange world of the Ma ...more
Bea
Mar 01, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was boring. The characters were all unlikeable and I could not relate to the motivations. I kept expecting to read more about how they had come to be so strange but you only got a few brief morsels of the past that left me wanted to read an entirely different novel. One of Alma's life from her perspective.
Linds Sloan
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A slow moving, character-driven novel. I think it will resonate with anyone who has a strained maternal relationship or anyone who has experienced life revolving around a difficult woman. Laura, the force of the novel, is impossible and so compelling, the others orbit around her and she uses all of her powers to control their trajectories.
Gary Garth McCann
I love all of Paula Fox's books, most, I believe, very much inspired by her own life, especially her experience with her parents. In this one, the protagonist endures a dinner with the parents who seldom see her and her mother's brother (if I remember correctly) and a few of their friends. The tension throughout the occasion is electric.
Peter
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
RD Chiriboga Moncayo
Harrowing and engrossing novel about a self doomed family, whose members are unable to break the " iron grip of definition" that fetters them.
Lizzie
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dysfunctional family dynamics in a family dominated by an abusive mother. I'm enjoying this; there are relationships beyond the family, between her brothers and her ex husband, that go back years and feel true. The story centers on her daughter, abandoned at birth to be raised by the grandmother, At times I almost feel sympathy for the crazy mother.

But now that I've finished I feel like I've missed something. Maybe it was just because of the rave review in the preface - I liked it but it wasn't
...more
Molly
Jul 19, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
...more
John
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Tom Johnson
Jul 31, 2016 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
Sarah
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
Swati
Mar 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Lisa
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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)
Virginia Walter
Jun 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
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.
Nln
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
Katie
Jun 30, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Paula
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Paula Fox was 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 wi
...more
“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.” 7 likes
“Families hold each other in an iron grip of definition. One must break the grip, somehow.” 5 likes
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