In her forties - a widow, too young, too modern to accept the role - Becky Aikman struggled to make sense of her place in an altered world. In this transcendent and infectiously wise memoir, she explores surprising new discoveries about how people experience grief and transcend loss and, following her own remarriage, forms a group with five other young widows to test these unconventional ideas. Read more...
In her forties - a widow, too young, too modern to accept the role - Becky Aikman struggled to make sense of her place in an altered world. In this transcendent and infectiously wise memoir, she explores surprising new discoveries about how people experience grief and transcend loss and, following her own remarriage, forms a group with five other young widows to test these unconventional ideas. Together, these friends summon the humor, resilience, and striving spirit essential for anyone overcoming adversity.
Meet the Saturday Night Widows: ringleader Becky, an unsentimental journalist who lost her husband to cancer; Tara, a polished mother of two, whose husband died in the throes of alcoholism after she filed for divorce; Denise, a widow of just five months, now struggling to get by; Marcia, a hard-driving corporate lawyer; Dawn, an alluring self-made entrepreneur whose husband was killed in a sporting accident, leaving two small children behind; and Lesley, a housewife who returned home one day to find that her husband had committed suicide.
The women meet once a month, and over the course of a year, they strike out on ever more far-flung adventures, learning to live past the worst thing they thought could happen. They share emotional peaks and valleys - dating, parenting, moving, finding meaningful work, and reinventing themselves - while turning traditional thinking about loss and recovery upside down. Through it all runs the story of Aikman's own journey through grief and her love affair with a man who tempts her to marry again. In a transporting story of what friends can achieve when they hold each other up, "Saturday Night Widows" is a rare book that will make you laugh, think, and remind yourself that despite the utter unpredictability and occasional tragedy of life, it is also precious, fragile, and often more joyous than we recognize.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Hoping to shatter the myth of the widow as a black-clad elderly lady of perpetual sorrows, New York Newsday reporter Aikman resolved to organize her own group of “renegade widows” and record their spirited monthly meetings as an unscientific grief study framed within her cautious memoir of having lost her own husband. Widowed in her late 40s when her husband (older by 16 years) died after a long bout with cancer, Aikman rejected the defeatist litany of the usual widows’ support group, made up of much older women and dictated by the traditional five stages of grief codified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, which Aikman dismisses, with some scientific basis, as “a bunch of hooey.” The group of five women she gathered were closer to her age, and despite being at different points in their widowhood, remarkably like Aikman, all apparently white, educated, attractive, upper middle-class women with jobs and nice homes or apartments in the New York metropolitan area. Occasionally they met at a restaurant or art gallery, spent a weekend at a spa, shopped for lingerie, and eventually took a daring trip together to Morocco. All the women had complicated stories of their husbands’ death, feelings of guilt and insecurity, and more or less healthy libidos. Indeed, dating and finding new partners prove the leitmotif, especially for the author, who had remarried a year before she even organized the group. As a result, the work feels stifled and lacking emotional drive, resulting in a kind of detached, academic tome. (Jan.)
Strength in numbers
Those who have found solace in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story or Sally Ryder Brady’s A Box of Darkness should take note of a new arrival on the shelf: Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman. While more traditional widow memoirs spend pages reflecting on the marriage, remembering the spouse and contemplating the future, Aikman and her gang of midlife widows are most concerned with the final part of the equation. How can one transcend what Aikman calls “the worst thing that could possibly happen”? Not by following the “normal” script for grieving, she soon determines.
When her beloved husband dies, Aikman is totally lost. She skims over the worst of the grief—waking up sobbing at 5 a.m., obsessively remembering the final days of her husband’s life—and cuts instead to a scene of a widow’s support group. She’s there, a year and a half after the death of her husband, looking for camaraderie on the road to healing. Instead, she simply doesn’t fit in (and actually gets kicked out). These widows are lonely and see no alternatives in the future. Aikman, on the other hand, intends to be joyful again.
This attitude informs Aikman’s personal story and the group of widows she eventually brings together. The Saturday night widows, who refer to themselves as the Blossoms, are younger, more interested in sex and romance, and more determinedly forward-moving than your stereotypical widow. They meet every month for a year—at art museums, cooking classes or the spa—and culminate their experience with an international trip. The vibe may be more Eat, Pray, Love than The Year of Magical Thinking, but it is compelling stuff.
Along with the stories of six remarkably resilient and admirable women (ranging from an entrepreneur to a housewife), the book offers an arresting analysis of the literature of grief. Aikman, working with researchers at Columbia University, dismisses typically endorsed platitudes about how grief works (think Kübler-Ross’ five stages) and shares the latest studies, which are far more in tune with the Blossoms’ approach to healing than the depressed widow group from chapter one.
A compassionate, inspirational and deeply personal read, Saturday Night Widows is relevant for a wider audience than the grieving. This book is for anyone who has faced adversity but refuses to let it define them.