Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating

Summary: The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating is Carole Radziwill's deliciously smart comedy about a famously widowed young New Yorker hell-bent on recapturing a kind of passionate love she never really had

Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture ... a Giacometti, no less! 

Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a "botanomanist," enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love. -- Henry Holt

When I initially heard about the novel THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING by Carole Radziwill, I wasn't entirely sure that it appealed to me. However, once I saw the author being interviewed on a few talk shows, I admit that I suddenly was very curious about this book. The descriptions (and the praise) made it sound like a very special story -- one that was both funny and touching, and I decided to give it a shot.

And I'm actually glad I did. I definitely enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING and it was a unique novel. It managed to entertain me while also providing some food for thought, and I was impressed with Ms. Radziwill's storytelling skills. I also liked how the book just had a different feel to it than the other books I've recently read.

THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING tells the story of Claire Byrne, a 34 year old woman whose older husband Charlie dies in an unfortunate (albeit kind of funny) accident. Charlie is a larger-than-life man who is famous for being a sexologist and best-selling author. He has some unique ideas including that sex and love can't coexist for very long. Not exactly what you want your husband to think, right?

Claire has lived in Charlie's shadow for years and even tolerated his womanizing ways; however, when she finds herself suddenly alone, she must find a way to bring the focus back to her own needs. Claire was once a successful writer in her own right, but she gave up her aspirations to be Charlie's wife. After Charlie's death, Claire tries to rediscover herself through a variety of ways including therapy, dating,  sex, and even visiting a psychic. As Claire tries to navigate her way as a newly widowed woman, she has many ups and downs; however, through it all, she just might be able to find some personal satisfaction and happiness.

While I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING, it did take me a few dozen pages or so to really get into it; however, once I did, I really liked this story. At first, I thought the writing was a little unusual and the tone of the book seemed to be a little "off." I definitely didn't feel that way by the end of the book, though. I came to really appreciate Ms. Radziwill's writing style, and I loved the unique feel of the story. I especially liked that humor that was woven into the book, although I admit that, at times, I wasn't sure if I should be laughing at certain situations.

I suspect that many of Claire's reactions to losing a husband, even though he was a philandering one, were actually quite honest. Since I've never really known any younger widow and the only other books I've read about widows were very depressing, I'm certainly not speaking from any actually experience, but I really liked seeing another side to the widow character. Claire's emotions went up and down and her actions were most definitely erratic; however, I believe that many of her feelings -- even the strange ones -- were probably quite reasonable given what she experienced. My heart went out to her, so it was all the more exciting to see her eventual healing process and self-discovery journey.

One thing that made this book special was the balance between the humor. and seriousness of the story. I loved the author's sense of humor and her ability to create some very funny situations for the characters. There were definitely some scenes that poked fun at the rich and famous, and there were also some rather silly characters and events. What Ms. Radziwill managed to do so well was to offset the humor with some poignant moments for Claire. While I did laugh a lot in this book, I also thought the book was insightful with some very smart writing.

THE WIDOWS GUIDE TO SEX & DATING would make an interesting book club selection. Although I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, I don't think one is necessary for a lively book club discussion. Claire is an extremely interesting character and I think most women would have a lot to say about her actions and emotions. In addition, her choice of men is certain to generate some ideas. Some of the other things you might want to discuss include marriage, love, friendship, grief, second chances, and romance.

Overall, I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING quite a bit. It's an entertaining read that is both serious and witty. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like a special book! I'm very curious about the author's writing style now.