From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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*Starred Review* Brutal violence and catastrophic loss are often the subjects of Oates’ powerful novels and stories. But as she reveals in this galvanizing memoir, her creative inferno was sequestered from her joyful life with her husband, Raymond Smith. A revered editor and publisher who did not read her fiction, Smith kept their household humming during their 48-year marriage. After his shocking death from a “secondary infection” while hospitalized with pneumonia, Oates found herself in the grip of a relentless waking nightmare. She recounts this horrific “siege” of grief with her signature perception, specificity, and intensity, from epic insomnia and terrifying hallucinations to the torment of “death-duties,” painful recognitions of confidences unshared and secrets harbored, and a chilling evaporation of meaning. But Oates also rallies to offer droll advice on how to be a “good widow” and describes her struggles with mountains of lavish “sympathy gifts” and the attendant trash with a “widow’s slapstick-comedy.” In a stunning extension of the compelling disclosures found in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973–1982 (2007), protean and unflinching Oates has created an illuminating portrait of a marriage, a searing confrontation with death, an extraordinarily forthright chronicle of mourning, and a profound “pilgrimage” from chaos to coherence. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The incomparable, best-selling Oates fascinates readers, and her memoir of sudden widowhood will have an impact similar to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). --Donna Seaman