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A Widow's Story

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  3,696 ratings  ·  601 reviews
Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before, A Widow’s Story is the universally acclaimed author's poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-six years, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath. A recent recipient of National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates, whose novels (Blonde, Th ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Ecco
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Gordon Grose David, I recently read and reviewed A Widow's Story for Goodreads, but I've not had the occasion to recommend it to a widow. I wouldn't think attempti…moreDavid, I recently read and reviewed A Widow's Story for Goodreads, but I've not had the occasion to recommend it to a widow. I wouldn't think attempting to share a book like this would be helpful until a year or so after the loss. Until a person has some perspective and healing, such a plunge back into loss and grief could trigger their own painful memories too much. After that, it could, perhaps, be helpful to read what someone else went through as a way to experience "I'm not alone in this!" Gordon Grose(less)

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Oct 21, 2010 added it
I requested a galley of Joyce Carol Oates' "A Widow's Story, a Memoir", because, as an author who was also some years ago widowed, I thought it might speak to me, and it certainly has, in more ways than I could ever have imagined.

There are a lot of grief books, a number written by widows, but none tells the raw truth of grief and loss like this one, how close to insanity grief feels--is, perhaps--and for a very long time too; how savage, precarious, shattering and lazy grief is, until, at some t
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
Oates' writing style, so readable that she makes the slightest most ordinary event of profound interest. Not just a tale of the experience of grief. It is more revealing about JCO and what she is like as a person. After reading "them," I couldn't help feeling like "Who could write like this?" and "What is this person like in real life?" I guess I thought she must be this confident woman who is such a great writer, I wasn't expecting her to have such low self-esteem, such self-loathing. She even ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 diffe ...more
Mar 24, 2011 rated it did not like it
Joyce Carol Oates ( ) wrote this book after the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Raymond Smith in 2008 ( ). They had been married 47 years, she was 70 and he was 78. As other writers that I have read, the author uses her writing as a way to deal with the shock of death. She writes very skillfully and with great mastery. If you have ever known a widow, then you will recognize the crushing grief combined w ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is the story of how novelist Joyce Carol Oates lost her husband unexpectedly to a secondary infection he acquired while in the hospital. She was 70 (?), he was 77.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. I read the first half quite quickly; it was highly emotional, and highly engaging. Around the half-way point though, it was simply exhausting and redundant, even melodramatic. It may sound caustic and unfeeling, but her voice is SO highly charged that it began to sound as though she
Britta Böhler
Difficult to rate; as a 'grief-memoir' the book is raw and very emotional. But oh my, it also reveals a person that I started to dislike quite a bit...
Charles Bechtel
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Read in one sitting. I was struck more as a writer than as a widower, something I daily dread becoming, by this idea: a primary repetitive act of any novelist is to invent, word by word, sentence by sentence. Failing the power to invent, a novelist may turn to what she can recall and massage that until she has what will stand in for what she wanted invented. One of the most striking characteristics of Ms. Oates work is that she invents so often, so well, and so clearly. Looking over how much she ...more
Nov 03, 2011 rated it did not like it
Since this is a memoir it is difficult to separate the author from the quality of her writing. Perhaps this is a well written book. But as a person I could find nothing about her to respect. I do believe her loss was the greatest pain she ever suffered but I do not believe her pain supercedes all other pain anyone else has suffered by being widowed, divorced or beling alone. I found her to be weak, oh so needy, a name-dropper, completely self-absorbed, disdainful, mean-spirited and rude.

For me
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: highly-recommend
This books stands alone in searing memoirs. Not only for widows but for anyone that has lost someone who simply cannot be replaced. The most mundane things are simply too difficult to bear and oftentimes well meaning friends make the journey that much harder. The moments that registered for me were the contemplation of an eternal sleep aided by doctors who tend to treat grieving women as raving banshees to be medicated. Then, of course, the endless bargaining with whatever is out there and in co ...more
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
I’ve never cared much for her widely lauded, copious fiction, and I care even less for the frail and foolish person Joyce Smith (pen name Joyce Carol Oates) portrays herself to be in this memoir. When her elderly husband, Raymond Smith, dies suddenly of pneumonia, JCO is left utterly unmoored and writes frequently of feeling suicidal, unloved, and without meaning now that her beloved is gone. While she talks a good game about stockpiling pills and lying in bed wishing to sleep and never wake up, ...more
Jenny Brown
May 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
I could not finish this book. It's another of those books written by someone anointed by the literary establishment who appears to have no sense of humor, no empathy, and no sense of how spoiled and conceited they sound. Oates recounts her husband's unexpected death in a tone that pushes the reader away when they would most like to connect.

One of the perils of being a darling of the literary establishment appears to be that there are vultures there eager to profit from every word that drips off
Janice Williams
Jun 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
A Widow's Story
Joyce Carol Oates

I am feeling a bit hesitant to write a Review (with a capital R) of this recently published book by Joyce Carol Oates for I am not qualified to critique her writing, only my heart and mind's reaction to the story she has told. With that caveat, I will share my impressions with you.

I purchased this book because, while I am not a widow, I am interested in how people adjust to life-altering situations; how they feel and what choices they make moving forward. Relation
Susan (aka Just My Op)
If you are a widow or someone else who has suffered a loss and are seeking comfort, run, run as fast as you can, away from this book. There is little, if any, comfort to be found here.

Joyce Smith, known to most of us as Joyce Carol Oates, had been married to her husband for 47 years when he died after a short illness. She was, of course, devastated, and I truly am sorry for her sorrow. Still, I really didn't like this book.

Initially, I was annoyed by all the unnecessary exclamation points and it
Rachel Aranda
This is quite a complicated book to review as it deals with one woman's emotional journey from when she first thinks about how she and her husband could have died until the point when her husband does die and her fear becomes a reality.

The strongest part of "A Widow's Story" are the emotional connections that we all have when we lose someone we love. While I haven't lost my romantic partner to death (knock on wood and thank goodness) I have lost quite a few people who have helped shape me into
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Joyce Carol Oates has written a deeply felt memoir, `A Widow's Story', following the sudden death of Raymond Smith, her husband of 48 years. He enters the hospital for pneumonia and "A secondary infection had caused cardiopulmonary arrest, and he was gone. It was just utterly unbelievable. I feel so completely alone. Though surrounded by the most wonderful friends". Because the prognosis for Ray was good when Joyce left the hospital, she went home to sleep and was not there when he died. She get ...more
Sep 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
First, I must say that I find JCO's fiction to be too disturbing to read. After reading one of her novels in which a group of teenagers kidnap a random person off the street and proceed to torture him, I figured that there are better ways to spend my time.

However, "A Widow's Story" is the kind of book, a memoir about grief, that I usually devour. My 9 year old daughter died suddenly in 2006, so I usually like to learn from ways that others have dealt with life's big losses.

In this case, I mostl
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The title of this book describes exactly what it is. Joyce Carol Oates takes the reader on a journey through the intimate pain of losing her husband after decades of marriage. Unafraid as a writer, Oates allows us genuine glimpses into her struggle to live through the days of her husband's illness, death, and the following year of her life. I feel like this was a "right place, right time" book for me. I was genuinely surprised by how completely it captured my attention and inhabited my heart. I ...more
Laura T
Mar 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
I read glowing literary reviews of this book, so when I finally got around to reading it, I expected to enjoy it, as much as one can enjoy a book about such a sad subject. I was disappointed. Listen, JCO has my utmost sympathy for her terrible loss. One of my worst nightmares is losing my husband. My annoyance with the book is not with her grief, because of course, anyone would be terribly grieved in their heart after such a loss. My annoyance is with her belly-button gazing, her sympathy reject ...more
Joan Colby
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
The somewhat jumbled structure of this book accurately depicts the conflicting emotions one feels after a loss, such as Oates experienced when her husband Ray unexpectedly died after a siege of pneumonia. There is a great deal of repetition, but that’s how grief is, unrelenting. At times, A Widow’s Story seems like a prolonged howl—Oates opens herself to the reader, but the experience is almost painful. It is surprising to learn that Oates was a girl who went from her father’s house to her husba ...more
May 11, 2011 rated it liked it
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 JC ...more
Fred Moramarco
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
"I can wade Grief/Whole pools of it" wrote Emily Dickinson, and Joyce Carol Oates does a considerable amount of wading in her deeply felt memoir, "A Widow's Story," written in the three years following her husband, Raymond Smith's, death in February, 2008. Although her remarriage just a bit over a year later certainly brings a happy ending to this grief chronicle, it is nowhere mentioned in the book. The Times reviewer Janet Maslin made this notion a central focus of her review, and though it is ...more
Lynne Perednia
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
For 48 years and 25 days, Joyce Carol Oates thought of herself not as the author Joyce Carol Oates, but as Joyce Smith, wife of Raymond Smith, professor and editor of The Ontario Review. That thinking, that life, is abruptly shattered in the middle of a February night in 2008 when she receives a call from the hospital where she had taken her pneumonia-stricken husband a few days earlier, summoning her to get there quicky because her husband was still alive.

When she got there, he wasn't.

The guilt
Meg Ulmes
Apr 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When I first saw the advertisement for this memoir in the New York Times Book Review, I knew that I had to read it. Several weeks later when I found it on the new book shelf in my local library, I knew that it would be a challenge for me to read because I am still going through the grieving process. When I scanned the first few pages of the memoir and discovered that Ms. Oates' husband had died within 11 days of my own in 2008, I knew the book would speak to me.

And it has. I have been challenged
Jacqueline Masumian
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book devastates. Not only because of the subject matter, widowhood, but because Joyce Carol Oates' exquisite writing digs deep into the horrors of unexpected loss, a tangle of painful feelings and severe aloneness. When her husband dies unexpectedly, Oates is plagued by an otherworldly sense of grief. She alternately struggles and flirts with thoughts of suicide. Insomnia nearly destroys her, and she wrestles with fear of addiction to sleeping pills and antidepressants.

Not recommended for
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I tend to not enjoy reading memoirs, which Joyce Carol Oates describes in this poignant book as at once the most seductive and dangerous of genres. At their worst, they come across as whiny (look at poor me and the vicissitudes I've overcome...) and at best, self-congratulatory. But then every so often one comes along, like Ann Patchett's memoir of a friendship in "Truth and Beauty", and this book by Oates about surviving the death of her husband.

At some point, most of us will survive the loss o
Rachel Aranda
This is quite a complicated book to review as it deals with one woman's emotional journey from when she first thinks about how she and her husband could have died until the point when her husband does die and her fear becomes a reality.

The strongest part of "A Widow's Story" are the emotional connections that we all have when we lose someone we love. While I haven't lost my romantic partner to death (knock on wood and thank goodness) I have lost quite a few people who have helped shape me into
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
I am fond of Oates fiction for the most part but this is the first nonfiction work of hers I have read. It was rated as one of the top ten books of 2011 by the LA Times, and I was interested in it because it is a memoir. In this book, she tells how she managed to deal with the sudden death of her beloved husband. I hardly feel qualified to criticize an author who is so talented, diverse, and prolific as she. It also feels cruel to criticize a memoir so heartfelt and painfully rendered as this on ...more
May 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Two things about this book 1) I'm 250 pages in and throwing in the towel 2) I think this book has made stop liking Joyce Carol Oates.

I would not recommend this book to anyone just for the pure fact that it is about a wife losing her husband (of something like 40 years) to an unexpected death. However, if you are like me and like reading memoirs about this topic I would recommend the first 1/3 of this book. After that it is slow and loses your interest.

But to enjoy this book you also really nee
odd, jarring sound of referring to "the widow" in the 3rd person

painful, awkward memoir; sometimes so powerful, sometimes so annoying. Like life itself-and death. And grief.

I will write a review-some day. It is a difficult book to integrate into oneself & evokes such jagged and conflicting reactions that I'm not sure when I'll be able to calmly "evaluate" it.

Sorry I read it? Grateful I did.
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Joyce Carol Oates’s husband died rather suddenly, and this is her way of processing that tragedy as an artist, as a woman, and as a person. It’s not a particularly happy book, not even the ending. It’s a blind searching that’s really not meant to improve anyone else’s situation, give advice, or look beautiful and profound; it’s just an exploration, a way of trying, and mostly failing, to understand.

And for that reason, it happens to be a little beautiful and tragic and profound, because that is
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more

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