Mary Gordon Reviews An Available Man
Mary Gordon is the author of six previous novels, two memoirs, a short-story collection, and Reading Jesus, a work of nonfiction. She has received many honors, among them a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an O. Henry Award, an Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Story Prize. She is the State Writer of New York. Gordon teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.
A widower in his sixties: healthy, solvent, with almost all his hair. Potentially a subject for satire or impatient, knowing ironies. But Edward Schuyler doesn't get this harsh treatment from Hilma Wolitzer. An Available Man is a triumph of tender observation: wry, compassionate, literate, and often very very funny.
Edward Schuyler, a devoted high school science teacher, finds himself radically bereft when his beloved wife, Bee, dies after a painful illness. With great delicacy, Wolitzer limns the outlines of the paralyzing grief that accompanies the loss of a great love.
But the world has a limited appetite for extended grief. Everyone urges him to move on--and by moving on they mean dating. His step-children, who are devoted to him, place an ad in the New York Review of Books. The results of this ad are the occasion for Wolitzer’s most delicious observations. "'Sensual, smart, stunning, sensitive.' Oh, why do they always resort to alliteration...This one's a music lover? Well, who doesn't like music, besides the Taliban? 'Searching for that special someone to share Bach, Brecht, and breakfast.' When they’ll probably eat bagels, bacon, and brussels sprouts."
Some of the book's most searingly poignant moments trace the darker side of mature matchmaking (maybe alliteration's catching.) There is the grieving widow whose house is a shrine to her dead husband...and whose life is a living mausoleum. There is the seventy-something plastic surgery addict who confesses to a desperate search for an impossibly vanished youth. And then there is Edward's former love, who left him at the altar, who turns out to be...well, still crazy after all these years.
The richness of the book can be accounted for in no small part, however, by Wolitzer's evocation of the mixture of emptiness and fullness that is Edward's life. He has his students, he's a birder, he has friends, he's a devoted stepfather...and the owner of an increasingly ailing, aging dog.
We never fail to root for Edward, and we and he are both rewarded by a sweet and satisfying end: a well earned coda to a novel that sheds a lovely, sometimes bittersweet, but finally hopeful light on one of the important ways we live now.
Praise for An Available Man
“Wonderful new novel… often hilarious and always compassionate.”--The New York Times Book Review
"Charming...affecting...emotionally layered"--Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“Tender, witty…smart and poignant, An Available Man explores some universal truths—that the past is never past, life is for the living, and dating is really, really hard.”--O, the Oprah Magazine
“[Hilma Wolitzer is an] American literary treasure…Wolitzer uses her gift for her chosen medium, long-form fiction, to deliver a message far broader than this deceptively accessible novel first seems to address. An Available Man is not just a cautionary tale of geriatric loneliness and sex. It’s a meditation - and then, a breathtaking roller-coaster ride, and then, a meditation again - on what we lose when we allow loss and longing to make us unavailable to ourselves.”--Boston Globe
“[F]unny, wise and touching… Wolitzer writes so well and knows so much that her books combine absurdity with poignancy in a deft and captivating way.”—The Washington Post
“Impressively readable… Wolitzer is such a capable storyteller. …(S)ucceeds, precisely because the writer understands that it's not a childish insistence on finding everything delightful but the full complexity of experience that gives a romance, late-life or otherwise, its real beauty.”—Philadelphia Enquirer
“Wolitzer is, by turns, funny, shocking, poignant and wise…”--Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Heartbreaking, maddening, comical, and poignant…This sweet story of a man’s diving back into the dating pool at an older age will especially appeal to readers in that demographic. ”--Library Journal
“I absolutely loved An Available Man (and not, I swear, because I’m partial to widowers). For a start, Edward Schuyler is someone I desperately wish I could invite to my next dinner party (and not, I swear, because there are half a dozen women I’d like him to meet). This is a book to savor page by page, filled with astute detail, both comic and mournful, about what it’s like to be middle-aged and lonely yet not give up on the search for love.”—Julia Glass, author of The Widower’s Tale and the National Book Award-winning Three Junes
“Wolitzer [writes] of the pain of losing a partner and its aftermath . . . with remarkable insight, grace, and humor. A warm, keenly incisive view of life’s vicissitudes by a writer too seldom heard from.”—Booklist
“Comic, tender, and delicious, in An Available Man, the broken-hearted rise again to heal and find love anew. Hilma Wolitzer is a national treasure, and she’s at her best here in the story of Edward Schuyler, a grieving widower who must put down his binoculars to see the world with new eyes. You will love it!”—Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Big Stone Gap and Very Valentine
“Wolitzer’s rapturously charming look at love in late life plumbs the depths of grief and longing to reveal the heady shine of new possibilities. What can I say? With its cast of exuberantly alive characters and a wise and witty plot, this book is love at first sight.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You
“Hilma Wolitzer is a master of the domestic world, and her writing is graceful, stylish, intelligent and so, so funny! This is a lovely novel, an elegant bouquet of family life, made up of tenderness and confusion, grief and solace, uncertainty and commitment, and the unexpectedness of love.”—Roxana Robinson, author of Cost
“I’m completely in love with this particular available man, and with the words that brought him to life for me. This book is very dear to my heart. What a gratifying read: wit! poignancy! authenticity! I asked myself constantly, How does Hilma Wolitzer do it?”—Elinor Lipman, author of Then She Found Me
“Families are Wolitzer’s turf, and she’s an observant and often humorous chronicler of domesticity and the stuff that comes with it: illness, loss, boredom, crankiness, and, on good days, love.”—Publishers Weekly