Excerpt from Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dinner with Edward

A Story of an Unexpected Friendship

by Isabel Vincent

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent X
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Christmas Eve Dinner

I heard about the promise Edward made to his dying wife long before I met him.

Valerie, Edward's daughter and one of my oldest friends, related the story when I saw her shortly after her mother's death. Paula, who was just shy of her ninety-fifth birthday and had been bedridden and drifting in and out of consciousness for days, sat up in bed specifically to address her beloved husband.

"Listen to me, Eddie." Paula spoke firmly, emphatically. "You can't come with me now. It would be the end of our little family."

Paula knew that Edward had already made the decision that he wanted to die rather than face life without her. That was wrong, she said, and exhorted him now to keep on living. When he finally agreed, she serenaded the man she had been married to for sixty-nine years. She began with "My Funny Valentine" and segued into half-remembered lyrics of Broadway show tunes and ballads that topped the charts in the 1940s and 1950s, when they were young and still believed that they could break into show business. Paula sang with a clear voice, unfettered by the congestion that had gurgled in her chest just days earlier and had made it impossible for her to talk. She ended with "All of You," mangling the lyrics as she went: "I love the north of you, the east, the west, and the south of you, but best of all I love all of you."

She died twenty-four hours later. It was October 2009. Overcome with grief in the days and weeks after her death, Edward found it almost impossible to keep his promise to Paula. He sat alone in a silent apartment, at the dining room table, which had been the scene of so many animated dinners. Eventually, Edward checked himself into Lenox Hill Hospital, where doctors performed a battery of tests. They couldn't find anything physically wrong with him and would be sending him home the next day.

"I'm afraid he's giving up," said Valerie, taking a seat beside me in the hospital waiting room. It was Christmas Eve and we had planned to meet for dinner. Valerie had suggested a restaurant around the corner from the hospital, where she was spending time with her father.

Settling into a table at a nondescript Third Avenue bistro, we picked at our lackluster red snapper and both of us cried. It was the day before what would have been Paula's birthday, and Valerie was still mourning her loss. Now she was also deeply worried about her father's ability to keep on living.

I'm not sure why I broke down when Valerie described Paula's serenade. I had never met Edward and, though it was a poignant scene, I can't help but think that it was also a stark reminder of my own unhappiness. I had recently moved to New York to work as a newspaper reporter and I would be spending Christmas on assignment. My marriage was unraveling, despite my best efforts to pretend that nothing was wrong. And I was more than a little concerned about the impact on my young daughter. When I hinted at my own predicament—I did not want to burden Valerie with my own problems when her father was ill—she suggested I have dinner with Edward.

"He's a great cook," Valerie said through tears, perhaps hoping that this in itself would spark my curiosity, and I would volunteer to look in on Edward after she returned to her home in Canada. Her sister Laura, an artist, lived in Greece with her husband.

I don't know if the temptation of a good meal did it for me, or if I was just so lonely that even the prospect of spending time with a depressed nonagenarian seemed appealing. It was probably a combination of loyalty to Valerie and curiosity about her father that propelled me to Edward's door a couple of months later. Whatever it was, I could never have imagined that meeting Edward would change my life.

For our very first dinner à deux, I arrived wearing a black linen shift and sandals. I knocked quietly, then rang the doorbell, and moments later a tall, elderly gentleman abruptly opened the door, his eyes smiling as he took my hand and kissed me on both cheeks.

Excerpted from Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent. Copyright © 2016 by Isabel Vincent. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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