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A Widow's Story: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062015532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062015532
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (252 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #495,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

124 of 130 people found the following review helpful By Niki Collins-queen, Author VINE VOICE on January 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Joyce Carol Oates' heart-wrenching memoir "A Widow's Story" is about Raymond Smith, her husband's unexpected death at age 77 after forty-eight years together. Admitted with pneumonia he died within a week from a hospital acquired virulent infection. Part pilgrimage part widow's handbook she illuminates with powerful prose and acute perception the stunning reality of widowhood. The shock, the anguish, the grief, the disorientation, the denial and the guilt amid the nightmare of "death duties." She raises important questions about the legal and medical systems, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning and the painful impersonal vocabulary of illness and death. Her distress gives readers the opportunity to think ahead about the 'death duties" before the shock of loss.
At her husband's deathbed in the middle of the night she had to call a friend from the hospital, decide against doing an autopsy and gather his belongings. When, in her haze of confusion, it later dawned on her that her husband may have died a "wrongful death" it was too late, her husband had already been cremated.
Feeling widowhood is the punishment for having been a wife she experiences Rays' death as series of appointments, duties and bills - viewing the body, funeral arrangements, the cremation, buying an urn to bury his ashes, medical bills and insurance, his will and death certificate, automobile titles and insurance, house insurance, IRS documents, banks and other financial statements, passports, social security documents, birth and wedding certificates. All are needed to "probate" her husbands will.
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164 of 186 people found the following review helpful By J. Silva VINE VOICE on February 6, 2011
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It's impossible to adequately review this memoir without comparing it to its bestselling predecessor in both form and topic, "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. The circumstances of both authors's widowhood are remarkably similar: Oates, a well-known and bestselling author, lost her husband of nearly 50 years, Raymond J. Smith, a respected writer and editor, unexpectedly when a hospital-acquired infection killed him; Didion, a well-known and highly successful author and screenwriter, lost her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Donne, also a well known and highly successful author, when he died of cardiac arrest at their dinner table. Both women had had close, work-together-at-home relationships with their husbands. Both writers use the memoir form as a way of exploring, expressing, and understanding their grief and the grief process. Oates's approach, however, unlike Didion's, is intensely focused on herself, her understandable grief, but also her feeling of helplessness and hysteria, her near-constant suicidal ideation, her rethinking of her marital relationship, and, finally, her way of finding help through her grief by taking over the everyday, ordinary household obligations that she had left to her husband for 48 years.

Initial disclaimer: I enjoy reading Oates's non-fiction essays and reviews, and occasionally her short stories, but am decidedly not a fan of her longer fiction, which I find bizarre, dark, and violent. I was drawn to this book, however, by the excerpt published several weeks ago in The New Yorker, and I still find the opening scene, which was included in that excerpt, to be stunning.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on February 1, 2011
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One year and six weeks before her husband's death, Joyce and Raymond were lucky to walk away from an automobile accident that could just as easily have killed both of them. Joyce Carol Oates and her husband, publisher and editor Raymond Smith, would look upon each day after that accident as a gift, bonus time granted them on their time together. That would all change on February 18, 2008, when Oates would so suddenly be thrust into widowhood that she would be left reeling from the shock for months to come.

Joyce and Raymond Smith had been married for forty-seven years, and they expected to be together for a good many more, on the morning Joyce awoke to find her husband feeling poorly. Because she could see that his illness was more severe than he believed it to be, Oates convinced Smith to let her drive him to Princeton Medical Center. There he was admitted with pneumonia, but the couple expected that he would be treated and released in only a few days. Up until the early hours of February 18, when Oates received an urgent phone call from the hospital, that seemed to be exactly what would happen.

Technically, Raymond Smith did not die of pneumonia or its complications. He died, instead, from a secondary infection he picked up inside Princeton Medical Center, and his was a death for which Oates was completely unprepared. One minute she was feeling optimistic about her husband's homecoming; the next, she found herself trying to make it back to the hospital before he died.

Suddenly, her life seemed to lose all meaning. Gone was the man around whom she centered her world and, staggered by her grief, Oates lost all desire to go on alone.
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