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Overview -

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.  Read more...


 

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Overview

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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780062015532
  • ISBN-10: 0062015532


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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2010-12-20
  • Reviewer: Staff

Early one morning in February 2008, Oates drove her husband, Raymond Smith, to the Princeton Medical Center where he was admitted with pneumonia. There, he developed a virulent opportunistic infection and died just one week later. Suddenly and unexpectedly alone, Oates staggered through her days and nights trying desperately just to survive Smith's death and the terrifying loneliness that his death brought. In her typically probing fashion, Oates navigates her way through the choppy waters of widowhood, at first refusing to accept her new identity as a widow. She wonders if there is a perspective from which the widow's grief is sheer vanity, this pretense that one's loss is so very special that there has never been a loss quite like it. In the end, Oates finds meaning, much like many of Tolstoy's characters, in the small acts that make up and sustain ordinary life. When she finds an earring she thought she'd lost in a garbage can that raccoons have overturned, she reflects, "If I have lost the meaning of my life, and the love of my life, I might still find small treasured things amid the spilled and pilfered trash." At times overly self-conscious, Oates nevertheless shines a bright light in every corner in her soul-searing memoir of widowhood. (Feb.)

 
BookPage Reviews

The long, dark nights of grief

Joyce Carol Oates’ intense, raw memoir of her husband’s unexpected death in 2008 provides a compelling window onto the writer’s working life by exposing the gap between “Joyce Carol Oates,” the masterful, prolific American novelist, and Joyce Smith, a wife of 48 years, suddenly widowed.

After Raymond Smith dies of a hospital-acquired staph infection, “the Widow” (as she refers to her new role) must learn to negotiate the world of “death duties”: a funeral home, the will, sympathy cards she can’t bear to read, a ringing telephone she can’t bear to answer and endless crates of Harry & David sympathy gift baskets, a “quantity of trash” that she must roll out to the curb, weeping in February’s icy rain. Retreating to “the nest”—the marriage bed remade into a safe place to grieve—the insomniac Widow tries to lose herself in work and in emails to longtime friends.

This generous memoir gives its readers intimate access to the most abject moments of sorrow, even as it explores the boundary between private and public selves. The solace of work, of inhabiting the role of “Joyce Carol Oates,” helps the Widow get through her days, though she struggles through the long dark nights, when even the cats avoid her. We learn that the Smiths retained a certain “privacy of the soul” in their marriage: Raymond never read Joyce’s many novels, and she never read his single unfinished one. The Widow’s struggle over whether or not to read this abandoned novel prompts uneasy reflections over how well she knew her husband, or how well we might know anyone we deeply love.

There is a breathless, antic quality to Oates’ prose here, an abundance of exclamation marks, dashes and repetitive phrases, stylistic markers that mirror the shock of unanticipated loss and its debilitating physical and psychological repercussions. This gives the memoir a kind of lightness and manic energy that make it a (paradoxically) pleasurable reading experience, and readers will come away grateful for having been granted such an intimate glimpse of a long and happy marriage.

 
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