Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: A Widow's Story (Audio)

Summary: 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 faced—totally unprepared—with 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 grief—the 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 desperation—only 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. -- HarperAudio

Since today is Joyce Carol Oates' birthday, I thought it was an appropriate time to review her latest book A WIDOW'S STORY. As you have probably heard by now, Ms. Oates' husband, Ray Smith, passed away unexpectedly a few years ago as a result of complications from pneumonia. He pretty much had a case of the common cold and then just a few days later he was dead. It truly was a wife's worst nightmare, or at least this wife's worst nightmare.

A WIDOW'S STORY is the very personal account of Ms. Oates' thoughts, feelings, and actions around the time surrounding her husband's passing. Needless to say, it was not an easy read (or should I say listen?) for me. In fact, I listened to the audio of A WIDOW'S STORY for well over a month because I could only take short doses of this it during my morning run/walk. As is the case with Ms. Oates' other works, A WIDOW'S STORY was beautifully written and the prose was extremely eloquent. However, I found it difficult to process because it was such an honest account of Ms. Oates' experiences. There were many parts of this story which I found to be absolutely gut-wrenching and I even shed a few tears.

I had a lot of reactions to this book -- from shock, to fear, to sadness; and I would say that I was deeply affected by Ms. Oates' story. But one of the things that struck me the most about this book was Ms. Oates' honesty and candidness about the depths of her grief. I had always thought she was a very private woman and this book was far from private. I can't imagine reading a more personal glimpse into some one's thoughts at such a painful time. I have no doubt that A WIDOW'S STORY will remain an important piece of work for not only widows who will appreciate that they aren't alone in their feelings and actions, but also for friends and families of these women. As I listened to this book, I couldn't help but think about the pain my grandmother went through when she lost her husband of over 60 years.

I don't think I'm an ideal judge of the quality of audio books since I am still fairly new to this format of books. However, I found the audio version of A WIDOW'S STORY to be wonderful. A WIDOW'S STORY was read by Ellen Parker and I thought she did an excellent job. Her tone struck the right chord with me and I could hear the pain and frustration in her voice -- I thought it was perfect. While it did take me a lot longer to "read" this book as an audio rather than a print version, I think hearing Ms. Oates' words made the entire book experience much more personal to me. And as a result, I was affected much more by this book and it ran through my mind quite often.

I realize that A WIDOW'S STORY might not appeal to a lot of you because of the difficult subject matter, but I highly recommend it. Ms. Oates' touches upon so many important, and very real, issues that a widow faces after the loss of her husband. It is beautiful love story and a wonderful tribute to a very special man... and a very strong woman.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this audiobook.


bermudaonion said...

I'm very interested in this book, but I think I'll have to wait a while to read it. I can just imagine how emotional it is.

Beth Hoffman said...

There are times when I'm in the mood for heavy/painful subject matter, and the next time I feel that mood coming on, I'll give this book a try. Terrific review, Julie!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've tried reading her fiction before, and found it too depressing. I imagine that a real life sadness like this would be even worse for me!

Anonymous said...

You've made this book really interesting to me. I actually read an article recently, or perhaps it was a review, that castigated Oates for remarrying so quickly after her husband's death (I want to say it she remarried about 14 months later). The author was trying to imply, I suppose, that Oates wasn't that grief stricken if she could "move on" so quickly. It infuriated me that someone could be so judgmental.

Carin Siegfried said...

I really want to listen to this too. I listened to the audio of The Year of Magical Thinking and it was fantatsic, although shatteringly tragic.

Mrs. Melissa said...

Is this book similar to The Year of Magical Thinking, does any one know? That was also sort of about losing her husband and her daughter? It makes me wish my mom were alive to read this as my dad died suddenly and when he was only 41. Unfortunately she passed away 7 years later. I wish I talked to her more about what we were both feeling but I was navigating through my own grief as well. Maybe this book will give me an idea of her own life after dad. Along similar lines to this book, I'm looking forward to reading The Long Goodbye by Meghan o'Rourke about the death of her mother, also from cancer. I think both of these books would hit home for me big time. Great review Julie - its on my library reserve list!