Summary and book reviews of A Widow For One Year by John Irving

A Widow For One Year

by John Irving

A Widow For One Year
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  • First Published:
    Apr 1998, 537 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 1999, 537 pages

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Book Summary

Richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force.

Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character--a "difficult" woman. By no means is she conventionally "nice," but she will never be forgotten.

Ruth's story is told in three parts, each focusing on a crucial time in her life. When we first meet her--on Long Island, in the summer of 1958--Ruth is only four.

The second window into Ruth's life opens in the fall of 1990, when Ruth is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career. She distrusts her judgment in men, for good reason.

A Widow for One Year closes in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth Cole is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother. She's about to fall in love for the first time.

Richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force. Both ribald and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief.

Summer 1958
The Inadequate Lamp Shade

One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking--it was coming from her parents' bedroom. It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her. Ruth had recently been ill with a stomach flu; when she first heard her mother making love, Ruth thought that her mother was throwing up.

It was not as simple a matter as her parents having separate bedrooms; that summer they had separate houses, although Ruth never saw the other house. Her parents spent alternate nights in the family house with Ruth; there was a rental house nearby, where Ruth's mother or father stayed when they weren't staying with Ruth. It was one of those ridiculous arrangements that couples make when they are separating, but before they are divorced--when they still imagine that children and property can be shared with more magnanimity than recrimination.

When Ruth woke to the foreign sound, she at ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
For Discussion

  1. A passionate and complex theme throughout the book is the concept of a writer's imagination. "Eddie O'Hare, who was doomed to be only autobiographical in his novels, knew better than to presume that Ruth Cole was writing about herself. He understood from the first time he read her that she was better than that" (p. 204). What role does imagination, lack of it, even fear of it, play in the lives and careers of the central characters?
     
  2. Ruth, as a novelist, sees books as inventions based on both borrowed and imagined experiences--not necessarily personal ones. However, her best friend, Hannah, a journalist, presumes that all novels are substantially autobiographical; she sees in Ruth's books a...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The LA Times Book Review

Deeply affecting...The pleasures of this rich and beautiful book are manifold. To be human is to savor them.

San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle

John Irving as at the peak of his considerable powers in A Widow for One Year, his most intricate and fully imagined novel.

Salon - Peter Kurth

A Widow for One Year, the enormously entertaining new novel by John Irving, is all narrative, all character, all author. This is to be expected from Irving, a writer who describes his fiction as "old-fashioned" and looks to 19th century novels as the model for his work. It's the measure of his achievement here that in a book spanning 40 years and nearly 600 pages, you feel when it's over that you've spent your time wisely, not just with the story and its protagonists, but with their creator, too, whose voice remains as forceful and distinctive as his characters' without once intruding where it doesn't belong.

New York Times

Irving's most entertaining and persuasive novel since his 1978 bestseller, The World According to Garp.

Library Journal - Edward B. St. John

As in The World According to Garp, nearly every character in the book churns out reams of Irving-esque prose. It's hard to empathize with these dreary people, and their picaresque adventures seem to lack any thematic relevance. Instead of ending, the book simply runs out of steam. Still, there are legions of rabid Irving fans who will want to read every word he has written.

Kirkus Reviews

Irving's latest LBM (Loose Baggy Monster, that is), which portrays with serio-comic gusto the literary life and its impact on both writers and their families, is simultaneously one of his most intriguing books and one of his most self-indulgent and flaccid. .... A thoughtful, if diffuse, examination of how writers make art of their lives and loves without otherwise benefitting from the process.

Reader Reviews

Billie Murphy

A keeper - thought provoking
I read this book when it was released and was fortunate to eventually find a leather bound, signed and numbered edition. I have all of John Irving's books and WIDOW FOR A YEAR is one of my all time favorites - NEVER begin to make the turn until ...   Read More

angel

intriguing
A book that has the unique ability to trigger off the deepest compassion for the protagonists' fates as well as spark off a fascinatingly sensual pleasure in the reader. A book that makes you dream of beauty...A book that enables you to appreciate ...   Read More

jeni dela cruz

i hope the film gives justice to the book. a haunting love story. erotic.

jim

Once again Irving has wowed me with his special art of story telling. And his penchant for developing a plot and throwing in a zinger at appropriate points is masterfully demonstrated here. And the settings are both interesting and educational (...   Read More

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