A Widow's Story: Book summary and reviews of A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates

A Widow's Story

A Memoir

By Joyce Carol Oates

A Widow's Story
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2011,
    432 pages.

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Book 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"At times overly self-conscious, Oates nevertheless shines a bright light in every corner in her soul-searing memoir of widowhood." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. The incomparable, best-selling Oates fascinates readers, and her memoir of sudden widowhood will have an impact similar to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking." - Booklist

"A worthy purchase that will be appreciated by readers of memoir generally and older readers especially." - Library Journal

"Oates writes with gut-wrenching honesty and spares no one in ripping the illusions off the face of death--the relentless senders of 'sympathy gift baskets' clotting her home like 'party food,' her husband who 'threw away both our lives with [his] carelessness contracting a cold' and the friends and acquaintances who mouthed wooden responses." - Kirkus

"The power of this memoir, then, is not in the originality of Oates's experience but in the extent to which she opens her life up to readers. (Or, properly, the life of Joyce Smith--"the widow's identity"--for this is how anybody outside of literary circles knows her, as Ray Smith's wife, then his surviving spouse.) She exposes the desperation with which she finds herself saving his last voicemail message, playing it repeatedly just to hear his voice, just as she'll call her home phone from the office to hear him on the outgoing message she can't bring herself to change..." - Shelf Awareness, Ron Hogan

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Author Information

Joyce Carol Oates Author Biography

Photo by Marion Ettlinger

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of 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 national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. In 2003 she received the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature and the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.

Partial Bibliography
Memoir
A Widow's Story (2011)


Novels
With Shuddering Fall (1964)
Wonderland (1971)
Do with Me What You Will (1973)
Miracle Play (1974)
The ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview

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