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A Widow for One Year
Cover of A Widow for One Year
A Widow for One Year
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
A Widow For One Year will appeal to readers  who like old-fashioned storytelling mixed with modern sensitivities. . . . Irving is among the few novelists who can write a novel about grief and fill it with ribald humor soaked in irony.”—USA Today
In A Widow for One Year, we follow Ruth Cole through three of the most pivotal times in her life: from her girlhood on Long Island (in the summer of 1958) through the fall of 1990 (when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career), and at last in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother (and she’s about to fall in love for the first time). Both elegiac and sensual, A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force.
Praise for A Widow for One Year
“Compelling . . . By turns antic and moving, lusty and tragic, A Widow for One Year is bursting with memorable moments. . . . A testament to one of life’s most difficult lessons: In the end, you just have to find a way to keep going.”San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle

“A sprawling 19th-century production, chock full of bizarre coincidences, multiple plot lines, lengthy digressions, and stories within stories. . . . An engaging and often affecting fable, a fairy tale that manages to be old-fashioned and modern all at once.”The New York Times

“[Irving’s] characters can beguile us onto thin ice and persuade us to dance there. His instinctive mark is the moral choice stripped bare, and his aim is impressive. What’s more, there’s hardly a writer alive who can match his control of the omniscient point of view.”The Washington Post Book World
“In the sprawling, deeply felt A Widow for One Year, John Irving has delivered his best novel since The World According to Garp. . . . Like a warm bath, it’s a great pleasure to immerse yourself in.”Entertainment Weekly
“John Irving is arguably the American Balzac, or perhaps our Dickens—a rip-roaring storyteller whose intricate plot machinery is propelled by good old-fashioned greed, foolishness and passion.”The Nation

“Powerful . . . a masterpiece.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A Widow For One Year will appeal to readers  who like old-fashioned storytelling mixed with modern sensitivities. . . . Irving is among the few novelists who can write a novel about grief and fill it with ribald humor soaked in irony.”—USA Today
In A Widow for One Year, we follow Ruth Cole through three of the most pivotal times in her life: from her girlhood on Long Island (in the summer of 1958) through the fall of 1990 (when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career), and at last in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother (and she’s about to fall in love for the first time). Both elegiac and sensual, A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force.
Praise for A Widow for One Year
“Compelling . . . By turns antic and moving, lusty and tragic, A Widow for One Year is bursting with memorable moments. . . . A testament to one of life’s most difficult lessons: In the end, you just have to find a way to keep going.”San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle

“A sprawling 19th-century production, chock full of bizarre coincidences, multiple plot lines, lengthy digressions, and stories within stories. . . . An engaging and often affecting fable, a fairy tale that manages to be old-fashioned and modern all at once.”The New York Times

“[Irving’s] characters can beguile us onto thin ice and persuade us to dance there. His instinctive mark is the moral choice stripped bare, and his aim is impressive. What’s more, there’s hardly a writer alive who can match his control of the omniscient point of view.”The Washington Post Book World
“In the sprawling, deeply felt A Widow for One Year, John Irving has delivered his best novel since The World According to Garp. . . . Like a warm bath, it’s a great pleasure to immerse yourself in.”Entertainment Weekly
“John Irving is arguably the American Balzac, or perhaps our Dickens—a rip-roaring storyteller whose intricate plot machinery is propelled by good old-fashioned greed, foolishness and passion.”The Nation

“Powerful . . . a masterpiece.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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Excerpts-
  • From the book
    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 first wasn't sure if it was her mother or her father who was throwing up; then, despite the unfamiliarity of the disturbance, Ruth recognized that measure of melancholy and contained hysteria which was often detectable in her mother's voice. Ruth also remembered that it was her mother's turn to stay with her.

    The master bathroom separated Ruth's room from the master bedroom. When the four-year-old padded barefoot through the bathroom, she took a towel with her. (When she'd been sick with the stomach flu, her father had encouraged her to vomit in a towel.) Poor Mommy! Ruth thought, bringing her the towel.

    In the dim moonlight, and in the even dimmer and erratic light from the night-light that Ruth's father had installed in the bathroom, Ruth saw the pale faces of her dead brothers in the photographs on the bathroom wall. There were photos of her dead brothers throughout the house, on all the walls; although the two boys had died as teenagers, before Ruth was born (before she was even conceived), Ruth felt that she knew these vanished young men far better than she knew her mother or father.

    The tall, dark one with the angular face was Thomas; even at Ruth's age, when he'd been only four, Thomas had had a leading man's kind of handsomeness—a combination of poise and thuggery that, in his teenage years, gave him the seeming confidence of a much older man. (Thomas had been the driver of the doomed car.)

    The younger, insecure-looking one was Timothy; even as a teenager, he was baby-faced and appeared to have just been startled by something. In many of the photographs, Timothy seemed to be caught in a moment of indecision, as if he were perpetually reluctant to imitate an incredibly difficult stunt that Thomas had mastered with apparent ease. (In the end, it was something as basic as driving a car that Thomas failed to master sufficiently.)

    When Ruth Cole entered her parents' bedroom, she saw the naked young man who had mounted her mother from behind; he was holding her mother's breasts in his hands and humping her on all fours, like a dog, but it was neither the violence nor the repugnance of the sexual act that caused Ruth to scream. The four-year-old didn't know that she was witnessing a sexual act—nor did the young man and her mother's activity strike Ruth as entirely unpleasant. In fact, Ruth was relieved to see that her mother was not throwing up.
    And it wasn't the young man's nakedness that caused Ruth to scream; she had seen her father and her mother nakedÑnakedness was not hidden among the Coles. It was the young man himself who made Ruth scream, because she was certain he was one of her dead brothers; he looked so much like Thomas, the...
About the Author-
  • John Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules—a film with seven Academy Award nominations.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    May 1, 1998
    The first half of Irving's ninth novel tells the story of Eddie O'Hare, a prep school student with literary aspirations who lands a job as a personal assistant to noted children's author Ted Cole in the summer of 1958. O'Hare spends most of the time in bed with Cole's wife, Marion. The second half of the book describes O'Hare's acquaintance, decades later, with Ruth Cole, Ted's daughter, who is also a successful writer. While researching her latest novel, Ruth witnesses the murder of an Amsterdam window prostitute. Irving tantalizes us with this promising subplot, then veers off in another direction. As in The World According to Garp (LJ 6/1/78), 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. For larger fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/98.]--Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles

  • Booklist

    April 1, 1998
    Irving should be required to do nothing more to secure his place as one of America's premier fiction writers. His latest novel, masterfully conceived and constructed, is a joy to read. As one who discerns and tells about life in fictional format, Irving is bested by few of his contemporaries; as one who draws strong, sympathetic, and real characters, particularly female ones, he is close to reaching the standards of Reynolds Price, who is arguably the best. Ruth Cole bears emotional scars from childhood and young womanhood that are, ironically, the impetus behind her distinguished writing career. (And Ruth is surrounded by a remarkably rich supporting cast.) The narrative is divided into three parts, each limning a pivotal period in Ruth's life. The summer of 1958 finds four-year-old Ruth, who is the daughter of a separated couple, Ted and Marion Cole (Ted a well-known writer of children's books), coming in on her mother while she is engaged in sex with Eddie O'Hara, Ted's 16-year-old assistant. Ruth understands that her mother is devoted, not to her or even to Eddie, but to her two brothers, both of whom died before Ruth's birth. Photos of the boys are her mother's hallowed possessions. The second section is framed by the year 1990, as Ruth, now in her thirties, enjoys critical and popular regard as a novelist. Still messy, though, are her relations with the opposite sex. The third section takes place just five years later, and Ruth finds her life enriched by love. As one excellently rendered scene follows another, each scene at once ribald, humorous, and tender, Irving achieves a nuanced depiction of overcoming familial and sexual dysfunction. ((Reviewed April 1, 1998))(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 1998, American Library Association.)

  • San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle "BY TURNS ANTIC AND MOVING, LUSTY AND TRAGIC, A Widow for One Year is bursting with memorable moments."
  • USA Today "WISELY AND CAREFULLY CRAFTED . . . Irving is among the few novelists who can write a novel about grief and fill it with ribald humor soaked in irony."
  • The New York Times "IRVING'S MOST ENTERTAINING AND PERSUASIVE NOVEL SINCE . . . THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP."
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review "DEEPLY AFFECTING . . . The pleasures of this rich and beautiful book are manifold. To be human is to savor them."
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch "A POWERFUL TALE TO ADD TO AN ALREADY EXTRAORDINARY BODY OF WORK FROM A GREAT AMERICAN WRITER."
  • The New York Times "A sprawling 19th-century production, chock full of bizarre coincidences, multiple plot lines, lengthy digressions, and stories within stories. . . . An engaging and often affecting fable, a fairy tale that manages to be old-fashioned and modern all at once."
  • The Washington Post Book World "[Irving's] characters can beguile us onto thin ice and persuade us to dance there. His instinctive mark is the moral choice stripped bare, and his aim is impressive. What's more, there's hardly a writer alive who can match his control of the omniscient point of view."
  • Entertainment Weekly "In the sprawling, deeply felt A Widow for One Year, John Irving has delivered his best novel since The World According to Garp. . . . Like a warm bath, it's a great pleasure to immerse yourself in."
  • Raleigh News & Observer "Enchantingly balances the haunting tug of grief with the lure of enduring love . . . Irving's rich narrative and his sense of play result in a delicious collusion between author and reader."
  • The Dallas Morning News "WONDERFULLY SATISFYING . . . [Irving] tells this story with so much delight that it's difficult for the reader not to be infected with the same kind of joy in the reading."
  • San Jose Mercury News "As compelling as Garp . . . Which is to say it's terrific. . . . His most moving book . . . John Irving is one of America's great storytellers."
  • Chattanooga Free Press "Comic and tragic, brilliant, and moving . . . Crammed with all the wonderful characters, quirky situations and memorable coincidences that have made [Irving] so beloved by readers . . . A terrific read that will make you its willing slave, so captivating is its allure."
  • Austin American-Statesman "A feast . . . One of this storyteller's richest works. . . . A rich, resonant tale."
  • Rocky Mountain News "Irving is a writer whose keenest sensibilities have always fallen somewhere between Dickensian verbosity and Mad magazine mischief."
  • Newsday "Full of humor, heartbreak and lust."
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch "POWERFUL . . . A MASTERPIECE."
  • USA Today "[A] sprawling, complex family history . . . Wisely and carefully crafted."
  • Glamour "A Widow for One Year delivers everything John Irving fans have come to expect from the beloved author of The World According to Garp: a funny, sad, sprawling saga full of oddball yet believable characters."
  • The Tennessean "There's only one thing wrong with John Irving novels: They have to end. Readers won't easily part with the characters in his latest work, A Widow for One Year. . . . [An] exhilarating talent."
  • San Diego Union-Tribune "Moving and memorable . . . This novel marks a return to the deep but gentle examination of human nature that made Garp so successful."
  • Sunday Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA) "May be Irving's best book . . . A remarkable achievement."
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