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A Widow for One Year

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Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character--a "difficult" woman.  By no means is she conventionally "nice," but she will never be forgotten. Ruth's story is told in three parts, each focusing on a crucial time in her life.  When we first meet her--on Long Island, in the summer of 1958--Ruth is only four. The second window into Ruth's life opens in the fall of 1990, when Ruth is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career.  She distrusts her judgment in men, for good reason.

560 pages, Perfect Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

John Irving

110 books14.4k followers
JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven.
Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story “Interior Space.” In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person.
An international writer—his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages—John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,906 reviews
Profile Image for Kate.
125 reviews167 followers
July 13, 2007
I hated this book. John Iriving's inability to write women characters was a huge problem in this book since it has a female protagonist. I didn't care about her at all and I wasn't that intrigued by the story either. I generally like John Irving's writing style, but it didn't make any difference to me with this book because I didn't like one single character.
Profile Image for Oceana9.
61 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2007
OK here's my final word on John Irving, because I will probably never read anything else he's written (though I've heard The World According to Garp is his best.) His characters are real and they were JUST ENOUGH to keep me going each of the twenty times I nearly stopped reading this novel. The plot is a rambling patchwork in which we never, ever, forget the writer sitting at his typewriter, searching for something to say. When he finds it, he riffs on it till it dies, and then searches for something else. I felt sorry for his characters, having to submit to such an unbelievable series of twists and turns.
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book394 followers
April 24, 2021
Never have I wanted a house in the Hamptons more than after reading this book--okay, fine, I might have said that after watching Grey Gardens as well. Never have I wanted to visit Amsterdam's Red Light District more than after reading this book--nope, there's a documentary called Meet the Fokkens that had the same effect. Never have I wanted to learn to play squash more than after reading this book--the truth at last! For a moment I thought John Irving was going to make a liar out of me all for the sake of writing a Goodreads review.

As it turns out I am capable of reading 500+ page books, though this doesn't mean I don't think most can benefit from a slight trim. Thanks to this book I'll never think of squid ink in the same way ever again, or see an empty picture hook without feeling a tinge of sadness. Time to start on that children's book I've always wanted to write--thanks John Irving.
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews417 followers
September 4, 2023
A Widow for One Year, by John Irving is full of heart and a myriad of quirky characters we have come to associate with Irving's writing. In this book, we follow Ruth Cole through three very pivotal times in her life, the first being when she is four years old in 1958 and living with her parents. There are two brothers, Thomas and Timothy who died before Ruth was born and all she knows of them are the many photos adorning their sprawling home in the Hamptons. A frequent ritual is to carry Ruth throughout the house as the myriad stories of her brothers give them life in her imagination. Her father, Ted Cole, is a very successful novelist of children's books complete with his illustrations. It was this summer that Ted hires an executive assistant to assist him with his writing, Eddie O'Hare. He also is the designated driver for Cole. This was the summer that Ruth's father was beginning what would be the favorite of Ruth, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, because she was its inspiration.

"That Ruth Cole would grow up to be that rare combination of a well-respected literary novelist and an internationally best-selling author is not as remarkable as the fact that she managed to grow up at all."

"In her life as a novelist, Ruth would never be converted to the computer; she would either write in longhand or with a typewriter that made the most old-fashioned noise of all the typewriters she could find."

The second part of the book takes place in the fall of 1990 when Ruth Cole is a successful literary novelist but her personal life is lacking. Her best friend, Hannah Grant, was a journalist who embraced life in every way, often to Ruth's chagrin. On a book tour, Ruth once again meets up with Eddie O'Hare, now a writer as well.

"Hannah was a journalist. She presumed that all novels were substantially autobiographical. . . . In Ruth's novels, there was usually a woman character who was an adventurer--the Hannah character, Hannah called her. And there was always another woman character who held herself back; the less-bold character, Ruth called her--the Ruth character, Hannah said."

"On the subject of childhood, Ruth preferred what Graham Greene had written in 'The Power and the Glory:' 'There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.' Oh, yes--Ruth agreed."

"Since Ruth's earliest memories--not only since she'd begun to read, but from the first time her father had told her a story--books, and the characters in them, had entered her life and remained fixed there."

It is at this time that Ruth Cole marries her editor/ publisher Allan Albright over the long Thanksgiving weekend, spent at Ruth's home in Vermont. The bride was given away by Eddie O'Hare and Hannah, the maid of honor. With his father's help, Eddie was able to identify the George Eliot passage about marriage that Ruth wanted read at her wedding.

"At Ruth's wedding, Hannah read from George Eliot with a lack of conviction, but the words themselves were alive for Ruth.
'What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they were joined for life--to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?'"

And the final section is in the fall of 1995 where we meet Ruth again, a widow for one year with a young son, Graham. It is during this time that Ruth falls madly in love. It is a wonderful and bittersweet time as the threads of Ruth Cole's life all come together as only John Irving can do, what a magnificent storyteller. I find myself so wrapped up in his stories that I find myself a little lost when I have reached the last page.

Profile Image for Laura.
29 reviews22 followers
December 15, 2007
John Irving has yet again created a whole world between the covers of a novel. Characters grow old with the reader, experience lust and loss, love and life. The thoughtfulness of his every detail and the concise placement of every word create a landscape more vivid than reality
One of the interesting topics of conversation in A Widow for One Year involves the main character’s attitude towards autobiographical fiction. Irving’s protagonist, world-famous author Ruth Cole, gives one hope that the powers of the imagination can compensate for lacking experience. Or, as would seem the case with my imagination, compensate for inobservance. When Ruth doubts her imagination and seeks real-life research for inspiration, she finds that reality is rarely as scripted and contained as her fiction. Appropriately enough, even her harsh reality is just a construct of Irving (although I am not familiar enough with him to know if it comes from his imagination or not). Ruth vehemently criticizes a journalistic tendency to mirror one’s stories on autobiography; yet one wonders how many of Irving’s repeat themes stick with him due to his personal history.

One aspect of A Widow for One Year that struck a chord (other than the glorious title) was the fact that, except for on a few rare occasions, the characters did not change. A love-struck boy, aged into his fifties, carries his idealized boyhood obsession throughout his adulthood. A philandering husband merely morphs into a philandering divorcé, and a woman bearing the sadness of the world carries it with her throughout self-inflicted exile. A whorish best friend does not let life jade her into changing, although she may at times feel a twinge of regret for the innocent pleasures she forfeits. In the end, who has changed? The characters have perhaps learned to understand each other, but doesn’t the understanding they receive allow them to sink ever deeper into the comfort of their own well-established personalities?
I also had the pleasure of watching the movie based on the beginning third of this book, entitled A Door in the Floor (starring Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges). I thought it wise to focus solely on the exposition (if it could even be given such a flippant categorization), which in itself contained more that is real than your typical reader’s life. Although I would eventually become quite fond of our 30-something female protagonist who does not appear until the latter two-thirds, the episodes surrounding her during that fateful childhood summer are certainly what establish the story’s weight and depth of feeling. Ruth’s ability to create such powerful memories of family members that have only ever existed in photographs is a testament to the power of the imagination – both Ruth’s and John Irving’s.
Profile Image for Patricija || book.duo.
585 reviews383 followers
January 1, 2021

Knyga knygoje. Ir tada dar viena. Ir dar. Ir dienoraštis, ir laiškas, ir gimimo, ir mirties liudijimas. Knyga apie knygas. Apie gyvenimą, bet ar ne visos jos šiaip tokios? Apie tėvus ir dukras, mamas ir sūnus, prostitutes ir policininkus, seksą ir mirtį, smūgius – gyvenimo ar tų, su kuriais jame susiduri. Kartais net neaišku, kurie daužo stipriau. Apie nuotraukas ir randus, Raudonųjų žibintų kvartalą ir skvošą, vaikus ir vairavimo pamokas, alkoholį ir žmogžudystes, iškrypėlius ir nepavojingai išprotėjusius, rašančius širdimi ir rašančius protu.

Irvingo tekstuose lengva paskęsti. Tuose Dikensiškuose smulkmeniškuose aprašymuose, niuansų narstymuose ir žmonių bei vietų skrodimuose, pasikartojimuose ir pasikartojimų pergalvojimuose. Bet Našlė mane užliūliavo nuo pat pirmųjų puslapių – talentingai papasakota istorija, vietomis tokia amerikietiškai pagreitį pagavusiai bestseleriška, vietomis tokia giliai vieniša ir skausminga, beveik skandinaviškai šalta ir lėta, britiškai juokinga, daniškai pamatuotai laisva. Rusiškai matrioškiška: tik ir spėk gaudyti kiekvieną istoriją istorijoje, veikėją akimis Irvingo, akimis skaitytojo, akimis paties veikiančiojo. Irvingo talentas parodyti tuos pačius poelgius ir tuos pačius žmones iš tokių skirtingų pusių, kaip parodo gal nebent pats gyvenimas. Ir per 640 puslapių nelieka nei vieno neišnarstyto kaulelio, nei vieno pradėto ir į tobulą piešinį nesusidėliojančio potepio: net tie, kurie atrodo beprasmiai, galiausiai vis tiek randa savo vietą dėlionėje, tokioje nerūpestingai smulkmeniškoje, kad tik toks pat nerūpestingai smulkmeniškas skaitytojas gali jame atrasti neišsemiamą malonumą.

Ir tai vienas tų atvejų, kur kaip ir gyvenime, išsisprendžia tik kai kas, o ir viskas ne taip, kaip norėtumei. Ir net atrodo, kad Irvingas gale pagaili skaitytojo, net šiek tiek Holivudiškai. Nebūtina, bet gestas gražus. Saldi užuomina, vis tiek negalinti paneigti viso skausmo, kuriuo kiek nerūpestingai, bet vis tiek reikšmingai persunktas kiekvienas Našlės puslapis. Bet negalėčiau nei visiems, nei daugeliui rekomenduoti. Daug humoro, kuris dažnam gali pasirodyti per piktas. Daug purvo, kuris niekada nenusiplauna. Daug tokio gyvenimo, apie kurį nenorime galvoti ir kuriame baisu atpažinti save ir savus. Daug veikėjų, kurių iki galo niekas neleidžia pamilti, daug klausimų, į kuriuos vis tiek reikės atsakyti pačiam, net jei kartu praleidote 640 puslapių. Bet mėgavausi kiekvienu jų ir jaučiuosi tobulai užbaigusi 2020-uosius.
Profile Image for Sarah Becker.
99 reviews12 followers
September 7, 2015
I hated about 89% of this book. The first part-- the whole 1958 part-- I really loved. Loved Eddie's goofy dad, the clam truck driver, Mrs. Vaughan, Ted drunkenly making Ruth grilled cheese. I was really excited to keep reading.

I even loved the beginning of the next part-- Eddie running around in the rain trying to get to the book reading. After that? JUST WTF. Adult Ruth was insufferable. Hannah was about four billion times more insufferable. Ruth's journal and novel excerpts-- yep, insufferable. Eddie and the old ladies-- sorry-- WEIRD. And what was with all the freaking squash? Only thankful I didn't read this in an academic setting because I'm sure it was a METAPHOR or something but seriously shut up about squash. And then next thing I know we've gone from 1958 Hamptons to prostitutes being murdered in 1990 Amsterdam?? HUH??? Just hated it.

Two stars are begrudgingly bestowed only because of the merits of the beginning and a particularly moving closing line. Otherwise, I wish I would have quit reading this.
Profile Image for Tocotin.
768 reviews109 followers
August 3, 2010
Just started... I don't know but what's with all the italicized words? Does the author do this in all his books?

Omg I just finished it. It sucked so much. The characters were all flat, reduced to one quirk and one obsession, with maybe one exception (Rooie), and OMG again, why would a writer write about a writer writing about a writer? And what was it with the main character's family of writers, and her mother's lover being a writer too? And why would the author avoid simple names or pronouns, and use "the sixteen-year-old" or "the strawberry-blonde lawyer" or "the prostitute" instead? And the indignation, the tone of narration around "the prostitute" and her colleagues! "The prostitute" was the only interesting character in the whole book, the only one I cared about, and I hated Ruth for what she did (or rather didn't). There. I hated them all. And the stupid dialogue tags, and the italics too.

But maybe I'll try other books of this author because I have heard lots of good things about them, and because I am a soft-hearted reader. Really. :)
Profile Image for Eli.
76 reviews24 followers
September 7, 2007
The first thing that struck me about this book was the heart-stopping beauty of Marion, a central character near the beginning of the book. It's tough to get images that concrete in written words, but Irving handles it without strain. Its not just a physical description, its the way that the rest of the image is a bit darker, a bit fuzzier when Marion is in the picture, like Irving is using the depth of field in a photograph to highlight the subject, like her physical brilliance is so overwhelming that everything else is dimmed.

Looking back, though, that's really all that there was for me in this book. The post-Marion sections of the book are slushy and incongruous; where Irving was so careful not to create a caricature of beauty in the first part of the book, the later parts are almost nothing but caricature: The detective, the prostitute, the distant, womanizing father.

In all, this was object lesson in leaving well enough alone. Had the first third of the book been left to stand on its own, it would have been a sparse, elegant novel. With the weight of the rest of the book, it was much less.
Profile Image for Bridgette Redman.
154 reviews34 followers
February 2, 2012
I’d forgotten what an intoxicating writer John Irving is. His compelling prose has a clarity and starkness that manages to entertain your brain and soul while permanently incorporating his characters and stories into your memory and being.

Irving is not one of those writers who kicks out a new novel every year. His novels are too carefully crafted, too (dare I say it?) literary to be anything less than an evolutionary process. After reading A Widow for One Year, I suspect his books are touchstones in his life, each representing a period in which he explores an idea or a philosophy.

Three in One

Irving divides A Widow for One Year into three major sections. Don’t be misled though. None of the three are meant to stand on their own and each would be meaningless without the others.

Book one takes place in the Hamptons in 1958. It is in this book that the events which will forever mold all of the characters take place. Irving also includes enough foreshadowing to clue us in on what will take place in the next two books. Somehow though, the spoilers he gives us in the first chapter do nothing but enhance the reading experience and when the events unravel, they still manage to be fresh and surprising.

In this first book, Eddie falls irrevocably in love with Marion, Ruth learns to live with death and abandonment, Marion shuts down her heart, and Ted shows himself unable to change despite the traumatic events swirling around him.

In book two, Ruth and Eddie meet as adults in 1990. We meet Hannah, Ruth’s best friend and other interesting characters. Irving takes us on a book publicity tour to Amsterdam and forces us to witness that which we would otherwise avoid.

Book three takes place five years later (in 1995) and is a book of resolutions. Irving wraps up everyone’s plot lines very neatly. He very nearly gives us a “happily ever after” ending for each person. Happy ending or no, there is definitely an ending with no strings left to unravel.


Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Irving’s writing is his intense characterizations. There are no perfect heroes in Widow for One Year and very few villains. Even those people with whom we have the greatest exasperation show themselves in some aspect to be sympathetic.

Irving’s characters are filled with quirks. They defy any sort of “norm” or stereotype. Indeed, perhaps some of the strength of Irving’s writing is that just when he’s gotten you to believe that a character is a stereotype, he shows you a different side of them or makes them act in a way that is unexpected, yet consistent with the character.

Even the dead have a role in this novel. Marion and Ted’s two sons die four years before the novel begins yet they have a presence that is more than ghostly that permeates every page.


Irving uses foreshadowing better than any other author I’ve ever read does. He tells you in first chapter how the book will end, yet no one will want to leave before he finishes telling the tale. Indeed, you’ll hang on every page to figure out how he will get to the ending he has foretold.

Irving also frees his writing from the shackles of chronological time. For all that each book is “set” in a particular year, he freely moves back and forth using both character memories and foreshadowing, making the actual “when” almost irrelevant. A Widow for One Year is a nearly seamless picture of a lifetime. It doesn’t necessarily cover from birth to death, but you do feel you know everything you need to know about each person.

One of the real treats in this novel are the stories-within-the story. Nearly all of the main characters are in the publishing industry, primarily as writers. Irving includes their writings as an integral part of the novel. He includes the complete text of two of Ted’s children’s books and summarizes the plots and themes of the novels of Ruth, Eddie, and Marion. We even get a slight peek at Hannah’s writings.

A Writer’s Life

A Widow for One Year is a book that absolutely resists being summarized in a banal statement such as “This book is about writing.” Or “This book is about sex.” The book is about many things, and is complex enough to have different meanings for different people. However, the complexity of the plot is not reflected in complex writing. It is a very easy book to read and nearly impossible to put down once you’ve started it.

Having made that disclaimer, let me say that yet another delightful part of this book is the comments Irving makes on writers and writing. Irving tells us that writers are creative—they create what they write, and yet, even the most original writer draws on his or her experiences and knowledge. I can’t help but wonder whether some of the book tour scenes, interviews, and articles weren’t drawn from his own experience. At the very least, I think he enjoyed poking fun at some of the publishing industry’s foibles.

Irving’s books have long ranked as some of my favorite novels. The World According to Garp is a must-read, and A Prayer for Owen Meany affected me like no other fiction book I’d ever read. While A Widow for One Year does not surpass A Prayer for Owen Meany, it comes very close.
Profile Image for Chana.
1,589 reviews145 followers
September 19, 2018
I had really expected something different. This is the 1st of his books that I have read but I knew he wrote The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Maybe it is just this book but I have to say that Mr. Irving has his mind in the gutter. (sorry to all of you who think this was a terrible thing to say!) He is funny sometimes and he does write memorable scenes, however... right now we are perusing the red light district in Amsterdam. There is sex on just about every page of this book and I am sick of it! (more than 1/2 way through the book)

OK, I am finished now. He can write a scene (the shredded pornographic drawings in the hedge, the gardner stuck in the hedge - I mean this is memorable writing. He is often funny (his commentary about the use of the semicolon in modern writing had me laughing out loud). The children's stories are terrifying. The Moleman is definitely nightmare material. His writing is compared to Dickens and rightly so, I mean it IS that good. However, and I do mean a BIG however, there are some things I really object to here.

#1 A bereaved mother has an affair with a teenage boy. She is susceptible to this because she lost her teenage sons?? As a bereaved mother I find this kind of thinking just incomprehensible. I also didn’t think leaving Ruth was realistic. Most bereaved mothers cling to their surviving children.

#2 There is so much sex in this book. It is degrading, and feels insulting. A quote from the book:

"But grossness was the norm for many people. Crudeness and prurient interests were the motivating humors for all sorts of individuals;...Whereas she wished more of the population were better educated, she also believed that education was largely wasted on the majority of people she had met."
(Mrs. Dash - a character in one of Ruth's stories)

another quote:

"It galls me that seeking out the seedy, the sordid, the sexual, and the deviant is the expected (if not altogether acceptable) behavior of male writers; it would surely benefit me, as a writer, if I had the courage to seek out more of the seedy, the sordid, the sexual, and the deviant myself."
(Ruth, the main female character, a writer)

#3 His obsession with breasts makes this story about Ruth's breasts as much as about anything else. Do you think I exaggerate? By the end I think the author must have been joking, the references became so frequent:

page 448:
"In Ruth's case, you couldn't even see her breasts."
page 449:
"Yeah, she had nice breasts."
page 451:
"She had nice breasts, Harry remembered."
page 478:
"It may have been his anniversary, but he was looking at your breasts."
page 482:
"And she really did have great breasts."
page 486:
"Graham won't leave my breasts alone."

This is just a tiny sampling of the constant reference to Ruth's breasts. And there are Marion's breasts, Mrs. Havelock's breasts, ... ad naseaum.

These aren't the only body parts we hear about, but I've had enough.

He also throws the character of Ted away. Ruth has "no feelings" about this. I seem to have more feelings about it than Ruth does! Ruth was the only person Ted ever loved in his life. Was her "no feelings" supposed to be his just reward for how he treated other women?

Editing this review to say I recommend reading him, despite my criticism. I've read five of his books and will read the rest as I find them.
Profile Image for Edita.
1,401 reviews423 followers
June 8, 2020
All his life he would hold this moment as exemplary of what love was. It was not wanting anything more, nor was it expecting people to exceed what they had just accomplished; it was simply feeling so complete.
There are moments when time does stop. We must be alert enough to notice such moments . . .
Profile Image for devon.
3 reviews
July 12, 2012
I don't much know how I feel about this one. The first section of the book is completely brilliant. As is the last line. But in between is rushed, contrite, and full of coincidences that seems like cheap ways to move the story along. Irving gets around conflict in the second part of the book by killing people off. Don't want to deal with the Ruth/Ted conflict? Kill him off! Don't want ruth to have to face her husband about what happened in Amsterdam? Kill him off! And apparently, having a baby solves all internal conflict. (Didn't we learn at the beginning of the book how untrue that is? Shouldn't Graham's resemblance to Timothy have some affect on Ruth?) It's particularly frustrating when a book that takes such care to develop its characters and relationships throws them into over the top plot devices and removes their complexity of emotions. The description of Ruth's feelings about widowhood are quickly jumped over and given half-ass descriptions when contrasted with the loving detail given to Eddie's desire, Marion's sorrow, and even the hilarity of Ted's mistress/gardner scene (which is wickedly funny). I keep trying to justify it by thinking that perhaps the different parts are supposed to be reflective of the novelists in the story, the careful character development of Ruth's style, the crime caper of Marion's style. In the end, though, it feels more like an Eddie O'Hare, deeply and painfully realistic when it sticks to the good stuff, but ultimately fake-feeling, forced, and unsatisfying.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Michela De Bartolo.
163 reviews56 followers
January 26, 2019
Quattro personaggi tutti scrittori, quattro personaggi al limite . Uno scrittore di favole alcolizzato, egocentrico e donnaiolo; una scrittrice di bestsellers abbastanza "disturbata"; uno scrittore di romanzi mediocri che non riesce a "riprendersi" da una storia d'amore (di sesso?) di mille anni prima; una scrittrice di gialli-rosa che ha abbandonato una figlia di quattro anni perché aveva perduto altri due figli adolescenti in un incidente d'auto pochi mesi prima.Un romanzo molto complesso! Come scatole cinesi, si nascondono tra le sue pagine altre storie nella storia, interi capitoli di altri libri, personaggi che entrano ed escono a sorpresa. Si leggono pagine che trasudano un dolore straziante e pagine fin troppo umoristiche, pagine lievi e delicate ed altre ad alto contenuto erotico. Irving si destreggia tra tanta complessità con una scrittura affilata e precisa con cui delinea in maniera eccelsa i personaggi che emergono con uno spessore ed una definizione non comune dando a ciascuno di essi una peculiarità propria. Non il suo migliore , mi hanno detto , quindi sicuramente leggerò ancora qualcosa di Irving.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,393 reviews201 followers
June 2, 2023
I read this a while ago, and then the novel was donated to my Little Free Library Shed, so I re-visited it again. I am now bringing my review to Goodreads.

This is a New York times Notable Book. The author is also well known for The World According to Garp.

He is a quirky writer.

He has a way of creating unusual characters, and in this book he has done it again here.

The book is divided into 3 sections. Section 1: Ruth Cole is 4 years old. Section 2: She is an unmarried and successful novelist in her 30's. Section 3: she is a widow of 41.

We may not get really much about Ruth, in the first section. We are finding out more about people, dead and alive who shaped her life. As we move on through the book, we continue to meet others, as well as watch Ruth grow and evolve.

The author's characters are rich with details. There was much for me to gain from each character. I needed to understand them. But there was also much to gain from the background stories.

This book is a lengthy journey, and at times I felt like I wanted to skim read, but always found a way to stop, and go back because it was so rich in prose.

Besides, I believe, Irving realizes that interesting characters are multi-dimensional, and in creating them this way, he always finds a way to give readers a "happy ending."

And that is what I needed.
Profile Image for EllaFuchs.
93 reviews17 followers
June 28, 2023
Einmal mehr habe ich mich an John Irvings Menschen und Skurilitäten freuen dürfen. Dieses Buch hatte auch keine Längen. Trotzdem hat mir irgendetwas zum fünften Stern gefehlt.
Profile Image for Lisa.
136 reviews66 followers
March 9, 2023
For John Irving fans, this book has everything you're looking for - quirky characters, imaginative storylines, bizarre coincidences, and memorable writing. The novel tells the story of the highly dysfunctional Cole family, who are all haunted by the deaths of the two teenage Cole boys. The lives and relationships of Ted, Marion and Ruth Cole are shaped by the grief resulting from that tragic accident. The book also uses the characters (who all pretty much turn out to be writers or storytellers) to deeply explore the autobiographical nature of fiction and the use of an author's imagination. I thought this was a little self-indulgent on Irving's part at first, but I was ultimately really impressed by how cleverly this theme was layered into the story and how thought-provoking these ideas turned out to be for me.

Honestly, I thought some of this book was just weird (and maybe a little creepy), like 39 year old Marion's affair with 16 year old Eddie O'Hare, as well as everyone's obsession with Ruth Cole's breasts. There is also just a lot in this book - a lot of characters, a lot of subplots, a lot of settings. And since all of the main characters are writers, there are a lot of stories within the story as the characters work on their novels. But Irving's imagination and wit was somehow able to pull it all together and deliver an enjoyable, although zany, reading experience.

The book did feel a little long at times with the multiple story lines and unusual twists, not to mention some lengthy digressions. Also, I didn't love the ending. It's a lovely ending, but it felt like a very tidy, bland wrap up compared the delightful chaos of the rest of the book. But again, somehow Irving gets me to overlook all of this as I'm thinking about how I should rate this book, because the cleverness of the themes and the well-crafted imaginative storytelling is so overpowering.

Overall, I thought this was a captivating and often humorous multi-layered story with lots of twists and turns. I find that I'm actually liking the book more and more post-reading as I'm processing the significance of all the characters and storylines. If you're a John Irving fan or are maybe looking for some unconventional fiction, this one is worth a read.
Profile Image for Jeana.
Author 2 books153 followers
June 12, 2008
I was very close to not finishing this book around page 350 (the first section wasn't so bad, but the middle really lagged). It was very long (very wordy) and to be honest, I didn't care much for Ruth or Eddie.

I am glad, however, that I continued reading because it got much better toward the end. I started liking Ruth only when she got married and became a mother. It changed something in her, I suppose.

Although this was not one of my favorite books by far, I did like the way John Irving could take something from the beginning of the story--such as Ruth as a child being afraid of a dress moving on a hanger, which I believe came from one of her father's childrens' books, and brought that back when she was waiting in the closet of the red room in Amsterdam. Just having witnessed a murder. His ability to bring back elements like that was nice. And he did it more than once.

This book, though, was exhausting in its amount of sex and all things related. And enough about how Ruth had great breasts. I get it. I got it after the first time they mentioned it.

Anyway, I don't know that I would recommend this book to anyone I know (in fact, I know I wouldn't) but the last 200 pages redeemed itself for me. But the ending tied itself up a little too neatly for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Erick.
70 reviews6 followers
July 3, 2008
The first couple hundred pages of the book, before it jumps forward several decades, are the most even, and it is this part of the story that is most endearing. This first part introduces us to the story's three or four main characters and chronicles their shared summer of 1958--a summer which, you guessed it, has profound effects on the rest of all their lives.

And it is much of the rest of these lives that Irving takes us through in the remaining four hundred pages, and due to the front-heavy nature of the book's dramatic set-up it's probably unavoidable that the follow-through seems noticeably lacking in some intensity.

But I was still happy to follow the characters along, and for the most part they all seem to end up in their correct places. I didn't buy every plot turn/twist (and the shaky pages set in Amsterdam make it clear that Irving is far more at home in his native New England), but Irving is a great storyteller and easily convinces the reader to weather the impressive storm of plot mechanics he (again) rouses to move things along. All in all: An enjoyable read, but pick up the more-satisfying Prayer for Owen Meany first.
Profile Image for Kate.
713 reviews10 followers
January 14, 2013
What a disappointment. Irving seems to think the way to write a convincing female character is to keep mentioning the size of her breasts.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,383 reviews404 followers
September 13, 2021
Well this was disappointing, don't know why I had such high hopes on this as I've only given his books three stars at the moment. The story wasn't interestingly at all and the characters was terrible written. I had bought this and another one of his books on a flea market so might give him a 4th and last try
Profile Image for Laurence.
418 reviews44 followers
January 14, 2021
Vandaag stond er een artikel in de krant over dikke boeken, en hoe dat nu weer "in" is. Ik heb nogal vaak de wenkbrauwen gefronst (wie leest er nu een dik boek omdat het een soort statussymbool is?!) maar in één bewering kon ik me helemaal vinden: als het een goed boek is, blijven dikke boeken ons veel langer bij, omdat we er nu eenmaal een tijdlang helemaal in ondergedompeld geweest zijn.

Ik denk dat de dikte van zijn boeken juist de kracht is van John Irving: hij is een rasechte verhalenverteller, die uitgebreid de tijd neemt om over zijn personages te vertellen. Het is een geheel eigen universum waarin de vreemdste gebeurtenissen kunnen plaatsvinden, en de meeste personages wel enkele bizarre kantjes of gewoontes hebben. Naar ik begrijp hier uit Goodreads-reviews, is hij een haat-of-liefde-schrijver, maar om eerlijk te zijn begrijp ik niet goed hoe het nu geen liefde kan zijn.

Vooral het eerste deel van dit boek is typisch Irving, het is dan ook niet verbazingwekkend dat dat deel verfilmd is geweest. Daarna wordt het boek wat rauwer dan ik van Irving gewend ben (en eigenlijk is een Irving-lezer al wat gewend) en een stuk gewelddadiger en wreder (die scène naar de luchthaven met haar vader!). Even had ik ook mijn twijfels bij die ene gebeurtenis ("Gebeurt dit écht?") en vroeg ik me af of die echt nodig was.

Maar Irving slaagt er toch in om het verhaal terug op de rails te krijgen, en meer nog, op het einde moet je concluderen dat het allemaal mooi tesamen past, alsof het niet anders moest zijn.

Het feit dat dit boek zich voor een groot deel in Amsterdam afspeelt, is wel leuk voor een Nederlandstalige lezer. Irving blijkt grondig zijn research te hebben gedaan, al vond ik het wel bizar dat in dit boek zoveel Nederlanders geen woord Engels verstaan (de zin "I did not have sex with him" lijkt me vrij universeel verstaanbaar). Maar hey, misschien praten de Nederlanders in Amsterdam alleen maar Engels tegen Vlamingen.

Zoals gezegd, het derde deel knoopt alles mooi tesamen en uiteindelijk eindigt Irving het boek op dezelfde manier als hij het boek begon. Het is een cirkel en tegelijkertijd een gans leven.
En zo sla je als lezer het boek met een zucht dicht, omdat het nog zo veel langer mocht zijn.

There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep.

Profile Image for Kaloyana.
686 reviews2 followers
September 3, 2016
Точно такива романи обичам - големи, интересни, умни, мъдри. Джон Ървинг просто е майстор. Умее да пише истории, които нито за миг не доскучават, а героите му са така добре изпипани, че остават в съзнанието като живо хора, които си срещал и с които си общувал. Не знам как успява така добре да завърти нещата, да вкара толкова много и разнообразни истории, в няколкото преплитащи се сюжетни линии, без да се размие нищо и без да изглежда недостоверно.
Може би всеки може да открие себе си в книгите му - своите мисли, своите страхове и преживявания и да види как се развиват при другите.
Това е третата ми книга на Ървинг и то без да съм прочела най-известната му. Нямам търпение за "Сетът според Гарп"
Обичам точно такива романи, наистина.
Profile Image for Vygandas Ostrauskis.
Author 6 books112 followers
February 14, 2021
Ilgas romanas, tarsi apjungiantis daugybę įdomių novelių. Nenuobodus. Geras stilius. Autorius nors ir lėtai, bet nenuobodžiai vinguriuoja siužetą, o pabaigai, – kad ilgas romanas nepabostų, – net sugalvoja detektyvinę istoriją.

Veikėjai gan taikliai ir įdomiai charakterizuojami. Pasileidęs rašytojas-dailininkas Tedas Koulas – „toks pat apgaulingas kaip suplyšęs prezervatyvas“. Jo žmona Merion, kaip pati pripažįsta – „žmogus, kuriam vaikas rūpi dar mažiau negu gerai auklei“ – psichologiškai sugniuždyta avarijoje žuvus sūnums ir nesugebanti mylėti po to gimusios dukters. Edis – keistokų, bet mielų tėvų sūnus, šešiolikmetis įžengiantis į knygą ir užsibūnantis joje iki pabaigos. Ištvirkintas dvigubai vyresnės moters, jis įgyja priklausomybę ir net prabėgus 32 metams mylisi tik su už save vyresnėmis moterimis, be tokios meilės kaip Merion, jis niekad nebejautė. Ir kita blogybė – nors ir tapo rašytoju, sugeba kurti tik autobiografinius romanus.
Tedo ir Merion duktė Ruta irgi tapo rašytoja-superžvaigžde (jos romanų herojai – rašytojai), išaugo be motinos ir sutiko ją tik po 37 metų. Neieškojo jos, nes – suprantama – buvo įsižeidusi: palikta keturmetė su ne per geriausios reputacijos tėvu. Autorius pateikia įdomią mintį: „Trisdešimt šešerių Rutai, mylinčiai tėvą ir jo nekenčiančiai, buvo tikra kančia žinoti, kad tėvas myli ją“ – tokie sudėtingi tėvo ir dukros santykiai. „Ruta apskritai nemėgo ginčytis su vyrais, nes tai būdavo panašu į ginčus su tėvu. Jeigu ji leisdavo tėvui laimėti, jis paskui vaikiškai jai primindavo, jog buvo teisus. O jeigu neabejotinai laimėdavo Ruta, Tedas arba to nepripažindavo, arba baisiai suirzdavo.“
Įdomus autoriaus požiūris į dvi blogybes: alkoholį ir santuokinę neištikimybę – „Deja, ėmęs saikingai gerti, Tedas dar labiau suksis apie moteris; ilgainiui paaiškės, kad merginėjimas pačiam Tedui pavojingesnis negu gėrimas“.

Visi knygos personažai gyvybingi, įtikinantys skaitytoją savo realumu, net tokie antraeiliai, kaip Rutos draugė pasileidėlė Hana („Hana iš prigimties atrodė visada pasirengusi gultis su kuo nors į lovą – ir dar su kuo nors, ir dar – be paliovos“) ar Amsterdamo policininkas Haris, teikiantis prižiūrimoms prostitutėms nuoširdžias Kalėdines dovanėles, o žmonos ilgai neradęs todėl, nes... mėgo skaityti lovoje. Neabejotinas autoriaus autoritetas �� anglų klasikas Grehemas Grynas, kurio asmeniui ir kūrybai knygoje skiriama nemažai vietos, tiesa, pasitaiko ir sarkastiškų minčių: „Alanas pasakė, jog tikisi, kad jo mažasis Grehemas nebus toks pagarsėjęs nuolatinis viešnamių klientas, koks buvo žymusis rašytojas.“

Tie skaitytojai, kurie kažką rašo, gal nelabai sutiks su autoriaus požiūriu, kaip rašomi romanai (knygoje tam skiriama daug vietos), na, o tie, kurie patys nerašo, gal nesusidarys pernelyg neteisingo požiūrio, kaip rašomi romanai. Knyga galėjo būti pavadinta „Iš rašytojų gyvenimo“, nes rašytojais yra arba tampa visi pagrindiniai romano veikėjai, o Rutos pasirengimas naujo romano rašymui atskleidžiamas taip detaliai, kad skaitytojas gali pasijusti situacijoje „sapnas sapne“.

Nors nebijau storų knygų, man ši knyga pasirodė kiek per ilga. Ar reikėjo tų 634 puslapių, kad autorius įtikintų skaitytoją, jog pagyvenusių moterų mylėtojas netikėtai gali įsimylėti 36 metais jaunesnę buvusios meilužės dukrą? – palieku spręsti skaitytojams. Ir kai kurie siužetiniai vingiai manęs neįtikino, bet tai nereiškia, kad negalėjo ar neturėjo įtikinti.
Profile Image for Mitch.
693 reviews17 followers
July 1, 2016
This is one of those 537-page books that, after you've read about 100 pages, you realize you've pretty much seen what the author's handing out and you don't care for it. This is a drag because there is so much more of it to go and only some misguided impulse to finish what you've started goads you stubbornly onward.

What's not to like? Well, here's some:

At times Irving writes with the grace of a ballet dancer and at others he lumbers along like a blindfolded football player looking for an exit. The word 'clumsy' comes to mind.

I found some of the things his characters said, and many of their actions, unlikely and unbelievable. (His main character chooses to build her workroom in the room where her father committed suicide after a fight with her. She can still smell carbon monoxide fumes (his chosen exit strategy) from the cars below. How...atmospheric. This is a good place to write a novel?)

The characters' interactions and lives also seem unreal. The knotted combinations of who is in love or having sex with whom, the main character finding lasting love after a couple of weeks of being with a guy after her continual failures with other men...just no, okay?

Also objectionable: the 'comic' parts that deteriorate into vaudeville slapstick...specifically the jilted adulteress gunning for her seducer with her car.

One thing that was interesting was a convoluted device that had characters commenting and reflecting on how much or little novel writing contains autobiographical vs. imaginative content. At times this was like looking in a mirror and seeing yourself holding a mirror and looking back.

Even so, I will unhesitatingly jilt John himself. I hope he doesn't have a Lincoln!

Profile Image for Sharon Metcalf.
735 reviews166 followers
March 31, 2018
John Irvings website describes A Widow For One Year as " Richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing, A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force. Both ribald and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief." It all sounds so appealing to me so what a shame it is to discover that after reading all 668 pages my astonishing emotional responses were relief that I can now move on to something else, and disappointment that I clearly missed alot of what was great about it.

From early on I got the sense that I wasn't going to be enthralled by this book so should have let it go yet I have this ridiculous stubborn streak that prevents me from giving up once I've started. Spanning almost four decades it was something of a family saga yet I felt apathetic about most of the characters. It had a tongue-in-cheek feel about it yet what was referred to as ribald I didn't really find funny, (although I will admit the very last line in the book was cleverly done and made me smile). I could recognise the love story and the elements of grief but simply didn't feel them as I expected to.

Whilst I suspect I'll forget the plot and the characters in no time I fear the disappointment will linger longer. John Irving is a highly regarded author and I own many of his most famous titles. I'm sure I'll try him again but it might just take me a while to want to go there.
Profile Image for Inita.
458 reviews35 followers
February 1, 2018
Man ļoti patīk Ērvinga stils. Lēnām izbaudīju grāmatas lapu pēc lapas. Stāsts bija labs un ik pa laikam bija pārsteidzoši momenti. Neskatoties uz to, ka stāsts sākās ar Marionu, Ediju un Tedu, man tas visu laiku bija stāsts par Rutu un daļas par deviņdesmitajiem man patika vislabāk.
Profile Image for Cody | CodysBookshelf.
739 reviews229 followers
April 21, 2018
“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life - to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?“

Oh, John Irving. You have done it again. You have taken my heart and torn it in two; you have opened my eyes a little more.

Published in 1998, exactly twenty years after The World According to Garp, A Widow for One Year is in many ways a spiritual successor to that modern classic. It deals with themes of loss; at the fore is not just one author but four; Irving again touches on themes like lost parents and prostitution and strange sexual situations. This is John Irving — you either like it, or you don’t. I certainly do.

Unlike Garp, however, underlying this tome is a theme of redemption, hope. If Garp is stark winter — for it is quite bleak, pessimistic — then Widow is early Autumn: this story is told in shades of light brown and orange.

If A Prayer for Owen Meany did not exist, this would be my favorite Irving novel. A beautiful rumination on long loves and the creative process, this is worthy reading for anyone who appreciates a well-rendered literary journey.
Profile Image for Noce.
205 reviews283 followers
January 20, 2012
Di come arrivammo al giorno in cui Irving mi portò alle giostre.

Inutile negare che con John, io abbia passato innumerevoli momenti felici.

La nostra è una storia d’amore ultra decennale. Presi una cotta per lui, quando da adolescente lo incontrai in una libreria di un anonimo paesino di mare, e rimasi ore a sentirlo raccontare le storie di Homer Ne “Le regole della casa del sidro”.

Ma poi, come spesso accade nelle storie dei grandi amori, lo persi di vista. Lo rincontrai anni dopo, quando una mia amica me lo fece trovare il giorno del mio compleanno con “Preghiera per un amico”, pronto a raccontarmi le storie di una persona a lui carissima, Owen, che presto divenne il mio migliore amico. Ah, quanti pomeriggi insieme a Owen, quante emozioni, quanti pianti e sorrisi. Solo per avermelo fatto conoscere, ancora oggi non ho abbastanza parole per ringraziarlo.

Non ci sono mai stati periodi di maretta tra me e John, però come spesso accade alle coppie navigate, ci siamo lasciati prendere la mano dalla routine quotidiana e dalla monotonia dell’abitudine.

Ammetto di non essere esente da colpe: anche senza andare da un consulente familiare, sapevo benissimo che ci sono stati lunghi periodi in cui non gli ho dedicato abbastanza tempo. Anni in cui non ho avuto più la pazienza di ascoltarlo, mentre mi raccontava le sue cose. Io ero troppo impegnata a guardare altrove, a cercare persone più affascinanti, che mi sapessero raccontare storie come lui. E ne trovai parecchie, però non è certo una gran scoperta che il primo amore non si scorda mai.

Per fortuna, lui si è dimostrato più saggio di me.

Così l’anno scorso, mentre ero distratta da mille problemi, mi ha chiesto di accompagnarlo a visitare un altro suo caro amico d’infanzia, Garp. Ed è stata la scintilla che riattizza il focolare. Meraviglioso, come ai tempi di Owen.

Così, abbiamo ritrovato finalmente la giusta serenità per dedicarci del tempo, tralasciando le cose secondarie. Una seconda luna di miele. E ho scoperto lati di lui che non conoscevo. Mi ha raccontato ad esempio, di quando era giovane e bizzarro, e scriveva cose che per molti erano incomprensibili, come “Libertà per gli orsi”, e ieri ha voluto portarmi fuori a cena per farmi vedere una cosa.

Avevo già intuito che doveva essere una cosa interessante, da quando ho intravisto cosa c’era scritto sull’invito cartonato:“Vedova per un anno”. Un’altra donna si sarebbe spaventata, ma non io, che di John mi fido ciecamente.

E ho fatto bene. Pensavo mi portasse a cena in qualche ristorante alla moda, così, per ricordare i vecchi tempi tra luci soffuse e bicchieri di romanticismo. Invece mi ha portato alle giostre. Ma non erano giostre qualsiasi. C’era soltanto un’unica grandiosa ruota panoramica.

Per chi non sapesse cos’è, dovrebbe forse essere la giostra più tranquilla tra tutte. Perché come dice Wikipedia è una struttura circolare a cui sono attaccate svariate cabine. La velocità è talmente lumacosa che hai tutto il tempo di goderti il panorama mentre la ruota gira, e ti dà la possibilità di osservarlo per bene da diverse angolazioni.

Questo se si trattasse di una ruota normale. Ma potete immaginare la mia sorpresa, quando ho scoperto che la ruota su cui ho fatto un giro con John, poggiava sul perno dell’assenza. Assenza di affetti cari, assenza fisica, e dalle cabine si vedevano tutte le angolazioni possibili di questo vuoto. Un’esperienza paradossalmente piena zeppa di emozioni. E improvvisamente ho capito anche perché il mio amato John mi ci ha portato solo ora.

Non è una giostra per fidanzatini nell’estasi dell’innamoramento e della passione. Del resto lui mi aveva già conquistato con Owen quando i tempi erano giusti. Quando aveva bisogno di travolgermi e di togliermi il fiato. Adesso, ha voluto prendermi per mano e farmi guardare il passato. Non il mio, ma quello di altre persone, belle nonostante il dolore, affascinanti nonostante la normalità delle azioni e delle reazioni.

È una grande lezione con una tempistica eccezionale. Siamo quello che abbiamo vissuto. Ma in futuro saremo quello che possiamo ancora decidere di essere. Anche se ci vuole un’infinità di tempo per essere padroni di quelle decisioni. A volte ti tocca stare su una ruota panoramica per anni, prima di arrivare ad averne la consapevolezza. Ma il panorama non sarà mai sterile, qualunque cosa ci abbia stravolto la vita.
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