Jeff's Reviews > The Widower's Tale

The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass
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's review
Dec 27, 2010

really liked it

Glass is, quite simply, a wonderful writer, and her newest book “The Widower’s Tale” is a fantastic addition to her growing canon. In her elegant and intelligent, yet breezy and accessible prose, the author tells a multi-layered family story that centers around a seventy year old retired librarian. Percy Darling may be resigned to spend his retirement in a quietly vigorous manner, but the goings-on of his family and his own unexpected romantic feelings toward a local artist conspire to change the simple trajectory of his golden years. From an archeological dig in Guatemala to the hallowed halls of Harvard, Glass weaves a story that is funny, heart-breaking, touching, and always compelling.

Having lavished well-earned praise on the book, I have to say there is one thing that, for me, makes this a four star rather than a five star book – inconsistent narrative voice. In “Widower’s,” Glass volleys between first and third person narrative from chapter to chapter. Now, I’m a huge fan of varying perspective novels, but my hackles raise a bit when we, as readers, must pivot from first to third person. The reason I have such trouble with this device is not that I find it jarring (which it isn’t in this book), but because it seems as though the author WANTS to write a first person narrative, but cannot find a way to tell the reader about key events, thoughts, or actions to which the first person narrator cannot be privy due to his/her relationship with the dramatic action. In a nutshell, it feels that the author changes voice simply to hide facts from BOTH the reader and his/her main character, to make the first person narrator both a part of and apart from the action. This narrative equivalent of “having your cake and eating it too” seems to be a way of “cheating out” a story. Percy Darling, the eponymous widower, is such a wonderful character and such a lovely narrator that I wish Glass had trusted him to tell the entire story on his own (past or present tense) or simply let him be the primary focus in a novel with the astute Glass as an omniscient narrator.
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03/21/2017 marked as: read

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message 1: by Joy H. (last edited Apr 14, 2012 07:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joy H. Jeff, what a great review! I just finished writing my review of the same book but your review has such panache, as usual, and tells so much more.

I like the fact that you agree with me about the switching of narrators. Not only that, but the author gives no warning when she makes the switches. For a few seconds one is disoriented, not a feeling I like.

Anyway, I enjoyed your review and wanted to tell you.

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