THE WIDOWER’S TALE by Julia Glass

Book Quote:

“I felt the familiar, vertiginous tumble of emotions: relief at the presence in the absence (that something of my wife remained) and sorrow at the absence in the presence (that my daughters would always remind me their mother was gone). And the ugly sense that I held a bottomless debt of repentance: for even while I’d maintained my solitude, had never come close to marrying again in the thirty-two years since my wife’s death, still that solitude had been ample with pleasure.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (SEP 24, 2010)

I loved Three Junes by Julia Glass and her newest novel, The Widower’s Tale, has much the same wonderful flavor about it. This languid story of a family dealing with their relationships with one another and the instrusions of the outside world delights the senses. The central character is Percival Darling, widowed for the last thirty-two years, and a somewhat crusty, cynical and reclusive personality.

As the novel opens, Percy has just retired from the Widener Library at Harvard University where he worked as a librarian for several decades. He lives in Matlock, a suburb of Boston that has become quite upscale and yuppified. He and his wife Poppy purchased their home about forty years ago and, even then, it was a work in process. Now, it is a historic home in their town. It has a pond and a barn and its description seems idyllic.  The barn was once used as a dance studio by Poppy where she gave lessons to children. Percy is dealing with unrelenting guilt about Poppy’s death. Following a party, Poppy decided to go for a swim even though she had had quite a bit to drink. Percy wishes he had gone with her or told her not to go swimming but they had had an argument and Poppy needed to be by herself. She drowned that night and Percy has been dealing with his grief and guilt ever since.

Percy became widowed with two teenaged daughters, Trudy and Clover. Trudy felt that Percy was partly to blame for her mother’s death but Clover was never judgmental. Trudy was a straight arrow and serious student, now working as a chief oncologist in a prominent cancer facility. Clover led a life of poor choices and misguided meanderings. Most recently, she decided that motherhood didn’t suit her and she abandoned her husband and two children. She returned to Matlock and is involved in a preschool called Elves and Faeries that is housed in the barn on her father’s property. Getting her father to consent to the use of the barn was quite a challenge. Percy has a soft spot in his heart for Clover, partially because of her nonjudgmental attitude after Poppy died, and he goes out of his way to help her out.

Percy is very close to Trudy’s son, Robert. Robert is a Harvard student and intends to be a physician, most likely a psychiatrist. Until recently, like his mother, his life has been led according to the rules without much straying outside the lines. His roommate, Turo, is an activist and he gets Robert involved in his escapades. Turo’s advocacy is reminiscent of the 1960’s and groups like SDS or CORE. Currently, Turo is against wealthy corporations, affluent individuals who use too many resources, and his demonstrations and activities have brought him counter to the law. Richard is naïve and easily influenced, joining Turo without giving it much thought – even though he lacks real dedication to these causes and suspicion about the legitimacy of these actions has crossed his mind.

After thirty-six years of self-imposed detachment when it comes to women, Percy meets Sarah, a fifty-one year old single mother who he falls for almost instantly. At first, they are magically and romantically entwined. Their relationship becomes more complex as Sarah deals with serious personal issues as well as her relationship with an ex-lover named Gus who has re-entered her life.

There are several other important characters in this novel. One is Celestino, a Guatamalan immigrant who is in this country illegally. Once here on a student visa, he is now doing lawn work and winter maintenance for a company in Matlock. He is quite fluent in English but prefers to stay silent and let others assume that this is due to a language problem. He knows a lot about trees and flowers and is the most trusted employee of his firm. Another is Ira, a teacher at Elves and Faeries who is close friends with Clover. He is a gay man who lost his last job due to homophobia. He is now faced with the issue of how closeted he should be at his current job. He has been with his partner, Anthony, a long time and struggles with whether they should marry or not.

All in all, this book works very well. We find ourselves caught up in the characters’ lives, caring very much for all of them. Glass has a great hand with characterization and demonstrates the fine points of every day life. She also is excellent at revealing the crises we all face in our daily living. Each character is distinct and provides nuances that make this novel come together. Not since Three Junes has Glass come back into her own as she has with The Widower’s Tale.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 124 readers
PUBLISHER: Pantheon (September 7, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Julia Glass
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

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September 24, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, Reading Guide

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