A Widow's Story
By Joyce Carol Oates
(Ecco, Hardcover, 9780062015532, 432pp.)
Publication Date: March 2011
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In a work unlike anything she's written before, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates unveils a poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of her husband of forty-six years and its wrenching, surprising aftermath.
"My husband died, my life collapsed."
On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray died from a virulent hospital-acquired infection, and Joyce was suddenly facedtotally unpreparedwith the stunning reality of widowhood.
A Widow's Story illuminates one woman's struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of "death-duties," and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of griefthe almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous "pools" of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow's desperationonly gradually yielding to the recognition that "this is my life now."
Enlivened by the piercing vision, acute perception, and mordant humor that are the hallmarks of the work of Joyce Carol Oates, this moving tale of life and death, love and grief, offers a candid, never-before-glimpsed view of the acclaimed author and fiercely private woman.
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the bestsellers Blonde, a finalist for the National Book Award, and The Falls, winner of the 2005 Prix Femina. She is a professor of humanities at Princeton University.
“…As enthralling as it is painful…a searing account…It is characteristic of Oates’s superb balancing of the intellectual and the emotional that she enables a reader to experience Smith’s death in the dramatic way she herself did.”
“Oates’ raw emotion lifts the veil of the enormity of grief that most widows, and widowers, must feel at the loss of their partners in a way that will come as a shock to some and a relief to others.”
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
“In a narrative as searing as the best of her fiction, Oates describes the aftermath of her husband Ray’s unexpected death from pneumonia…It’s the painful, scorchingly angry journey of a woman struggling to live in a house “from which meaning has departed, like air leaking from a balloon.”
“A vivid and urgent memoir…”
-Dallas Morning News
“Widowhood for Oates is a rough, disfiguring condition, one that mocks past happiness. Words are her salvation. “A Widow’s Story” is a brave book that carries its author through the contortions of doubt and despair, on a pilgrimage back to life.”
-Charleston Post & Courier
“Astonishing…revelatory…[A Widow’s Story] is remarkable…for how candidly Oates explores the writer’s secret life: the private world of her marriage, which…she asserts is far truer and more real, and of far greater importance, than any of her imaginary creations.”
“Reads like a rending of garments…”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The novelist and essayist pens her most intimate book about the death of her husband of 46 years. Judging by the excerpt in The New Yorker Oates’ memoir will join Antonia Fraser and Joan Didion on the shelf of essential works on loss.”
“Joyce Carol Oates’s new memoir, A Widow’s Story, is a naked confession about the messy relation of art to life…A Widow’s Story, while about life after the death of a husband, is also about the intense inner life of a female genius…”
“Oates writes movingly about the terror, depression and suicidal ruminations that dominated her existence in the months after Smith’s death…it’s impossible to be unmoved by Oates’ “Story,” by the degree to which she sees her husband everywhere she looks, as she finds beauty in the elusive notion of renewal.”
-Kansas City Star
“A harrowing tale…”
“A wildly unhinged, deeply intimate look at the eminent author’s “derangement of Widowhood.”...Oates writes with gut-wrenching honesty and spares no one in ripping the illusions off the face of death...Oates continues to keep her readers guessing at her next thrilling effort.”
“Packed with moments of…frankness…”
“Oates excellently conveys the disconnect between the inwardly chaotic self and the outwardly functioning person…”
-New York Review of Books
“A Widow’s Story is unlike anything Oates has written before…a poignant and raw examination of the obsessiveness and self-indulgence of grief…”
“A brave, dark but slyly mordant memoir…Oates rages at the dying of the light of her life in this unflinching, generous portrait of the terror of emptiness.”
-National Public Radio
“As much a portrait of a unique marriage as a chronicle of grief...immensely moving…“
“[Oates] shines a bright light in every corner in her soul-searing memoir of widowhood.”
“As a writer, heightened emotion is the essential ingredient in [Oates’] work…As A Widow’s Story progresses, it becomes [Raymond Smith’s] story--both an homage to a decent, intensely private man, and Oates’ way of keeping him in memory as she probes his most closely guarded self.”
“Affecting…perfectly pitched prose…”
“An affecting portrait of anguish.”
“Joyce Carol Oates writes like a force of nature, and a story emerges, as if organically, from the physicality of her grief. There are few secrets and no lies, only insights into the inner world of her partner of 50 years.”
“This is a brave, haunting, heart-rending book, and it will never let you go.”
“…A cascade-of-consciousness that will mostly mesmerize you and surely move you…a book more painfully self-revelatory than anything Oates the fiction writer or critic has ever dared to produce.”
-New York Times Book Review
“Flourishes of black humor punctuate the drumbeat of grief, setting the book apart from works such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.”
-Wall Street Journal
“…Astonishingly candid…[Oates’s] suffering gushes forth in page after page of detailed prose, snatches of sentences, reportorial and intuitive, emotional and reflective…Oates set out to write a widow’s handbook. What she has accomplished is a story of a marriage.”
-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel