There are few books that look at life, death, and aging squarely in the face, but this is one of them. Anne Roiphe has written a deeply felt account of her experience of widowhood. While the book is not cheerful, it is unexpectedly life affirming. Particularly engaging (and often funny) are her descriptions of many internet relationships developed on match.com. She doggedly continues to seek a life partner, despite the unsuitability of so many of her cyber suitors. She seems particularly drawn to a right-winger from Albany even though his e mails are filled with hate and venom. She recognizes the wounded soul beneath the anger and carries on the correspondence much longer than she probably should have. She continually grieves the loss of her psychoanalyst husband who she refers to as "H" throughout the book. In fact, all the individuals are identified only by their initials as if to both protect their privacy and reveal everything at the same time. The book shows us how we hold on to grief as we try to release it, how we retain our illusions as we try to shed them, and especially how those of us who continue to brave the storms and arrows of outrageous fortune choose to carry on. Let me offer an altered paraphrase of Whitman: who touches this book touches the heart and soul of a woman.
on September 12, 2008
While Joan Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING is likely to remain the touchstone for contemporary books about a widow's grief, Anne Roiphe's new memoir is a painfully honest and deeply affecting companion to Didion's work.
In December 2005, Herman Roiphe ("H.," as she refers to him throughout the memoir), a well-known New York psychoanalyst, her husband of 39 years and 12 years her senior, died suddenly. Now Anne must begin her life again as a widow at the age of 69. "Grief is in two parts," she writes. "The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life. This book is about the second. Although the division between the two parts is not a line, a wall or a chasm." With that candid insight, Roiphe launches her account of the 18 months or so that followed her husband's death.
What's striking about Roiphe's situation, especially for such a highly educated, sophisticated woman, is how ill-equipped she seems to be to deal with some of the daily reality of it. Like many widows, she's mystified when it comes to financial matters ("This is his job. But he is not here and now I will do it, badly, but I will do it. Resentfully I will do it."). But she's equally at sea trying to perform even the most mundane of tasks, like fitting her key into the door of her apartment, which she always had left to her husband, or deciding which subway to take in a city where she's lived all her life. It's as if the loss of H. has rendered her disabled in some mysterious fashion.
Granted, some of the challenges Roiphe must confront are hardly the ordinary stuff of widowhood. Claiming that she's forbidden to provide details, she's left to clean up a lawsuit "for a considerable amount of money stemming from something in my husband's past." And she must deal with the blackly comic demand of her husband's ex-wife for an entire month's alimony ("the last drop of honey from the pot") for the month in which he died.
Thanks to a personal ad placed by her daughters in The New York Review of Books, and her own foray unto Match.com, Roiphe doesn't lack for male companionship (the way that e-mail has transformed dating rituals, even for senior citizens, is one of the subtexts of Roiphe's story). From the self-absorbed to the desperate, she chronicles her experiences with these men, even describing with refreshing honesty her sexual encounter with an attorney named M. The most bizarre of them (and the only one to which she does not attach an initial, a style borrowed from psychoanalytic writings) is a man from Albany, New York, who bombards her with email filled with increasingly virulent, even paranoid, right-wing propaganda. Although the two never meet, she seems oddly tempted by the notion of a relationship with him. It's puzzling that Roiphe, a passionate feminist, would have tolerated this onslaught of messages so at odds with her core beliefs for so long.
As befits an author of 15 books of fiction and nonfiction, Roiphe's voice is rich with nuance. At times she's concise and epigrammatic: "It is not a sign of normal life when the takeout deliverymen become fond of you or your tips." "If only there were a camp for us like the camps for the overweight kids advertised on the back of the New York Times Magazine." And yet she's equally capable of expressions of arresting beauty and poignancy: "Think of grief as a river that finally runs into the ocean where it is absorbed but not dissolved, pebbles, moss, fish, twigs from the smallest upland stream run with it and finally float in the salt sea from which life emerged."
By the end of her journey, Roiphe has emerged a different, stronger person. She has enrolled in a class in ancient history in the land of Israel, drawn closer to her daughters, and reconciled herself to the notion that she may never have another intimate relationship with a man. And while there are moments when she fleetingly contemplates leaping from her apartment, like the characters in John Irving's novel THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, she leaves no doubt that she'll "keep passing the open windows."
--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
When Anne Roiphe's long-time husband dies, she writes that men are her "necessary other," and wonders: "Could it be that a woman without a man is always on the edge of appearing as a figure of fun, a disappointed woman like a nun or the obese girl that stays at home the night of the senior prom?" Ms. Rophie was so dependent on her late husband that she's unable to unlock the door of her apartment by herself or hail a cab. She's never done her own taxes or gone to the movies alone. If you're looking for a book about widowhood with a feminist perspective, expect to be disappointed.
Although I'm sympathetic to Rophie's loss, this book is filled with mean-spirited self-pity. Rophie owns an Upper West side co-op and a house in the Hamptons that she is able to sell after her husband's death. She's certainly in much better off than the majority of widowed women in this country (or the world, for that matter). But does her suffering give her empathy or insight into the lives of the less fortunate? No: "I have trouble staying at such a distance from myself that I can worry more about the orphans in Ethiopia that I do about who will have dinner with me tomorrow evening." Nuns and overweight teenage girls aren't the only objects of Rophie's scorn. She writes cruelly about an older woman neighbor with "yellow stained white hair" whose "back is bent over at a forty-five degree angle" with osteoporosis--"I should do more than nod and smile when I pass her. I should speak. But I don't." Much of the book is written in such short, flat uninflected sentences. Roiphe's life as a widow is one disappointment after another; her daughters live forty-five minutes away in Brooklyn and are "busy," and the men she hooks up with through New York Review of Books personal ads have protruding ears, kiss the wrong way or have messy personal histories. Even her sainted late husband comes in for criticism: "A more perfect man might have left me a life insurance policy." But there's some good news: Roiphe actually goes to the movies alone and enjoys it: "I am glad I went to the movies. I can go alone whenever I want." Much of the book is devoted to her attempts to meet men through personal ads or online. It feels sordid and a little sad. Rophie comes across as a self-absorbed woman with little insight into her own behavior.
on September 19, 2008
In the aftermath of her husband's death, this still-attractive and accomplished 69-year old writer and mother sought male companionship through an online matching service and a classified ad. Her subsequent experiences and the men she meets are humorously and candidly recounted in a frank and engaging fashion. Sort of like Joan Didion's memoir, but with less emphasis on the grieving process and more on the search for renewal and romance.
on September 17, 2012
To be honest, I've put this book down and picked it up again more than a few times. The overall result of having read all of it in parts is feeling how much I value the company of my dear husband who is still alive and well. I don't want to complain about him when he is dead. I don't want to yearn for him because I didn't value him enough while we still have our time together.
Anne Roiphe has written about herself and life in a direct manner. That is, she doesn't hold back about what she wants nor what she's never bothered to do: which is to take care of herself. She misses her husband because he did the cooking, taxes and supported her although he didn't take out any life insurance, leaving two homes in NY, one in the Hamptons behind (which she complains is too expensive for her to keep.) She admits that she's lonely, gives up on going to the gym and dresses up to go out on countless lunches, dinners and other "dates" to meet men, some recommended, others from match.com, most of whom are (much) older than they claim.
She sounds like a difficult woman. In denial that others don't want to see her, she pursues people whom she thought were friends and is mystified when they cross the street in order to avoid contacting her. There is an air of resignation in her tone that nobody will be good enough for her. When at the same time, she can't be very bothered about her appearance, nor her attitude towards others.
Although she declaims that she loves her children, there is often a slightly edgey tone to her descriptions of them, their families, the first Seder without her husband and her sons-in-law, whom she doesn't seem quite grateful enough that THEY are taking care of her daughters. So, she comes from a generation of women who grew up in the '40's and '50's, knowing that they want to be independent, but only up to a certain point. Like many of us, even now, she wants to be taken care of by a man, and who can blame her? She doesn't find him, however, at least not yet, although she finds consolation in the act of writing about the search.
Having read memoirs written by other widows, Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates, this one stands out for its candor about herself and her life-- rather than trying to create a work of art from her loneliness as the others have done. I give her credit for that.
on February 3, 2015
I read this book in two sessions. It was definitely a page-turner for me. As a fellow widow, I feel as though I could have a glass of wine with Anne and have interesting conversations about coping as a suddenly single woman. I feel as though we'd be a mutual admiration society because she writes that she admires women who feel comfortable alone and that she envies people who have faith. I feel comfortable alone (for the most part) and I have a deep faith, but I would tell her that I envy her large number of friends and her grandchildren (even though I think of the children I work with in a volunteer capacity as my surrogate grandchildren). I would also say that I truly admire her for having the courage to reenter the dating world (something I haven't done).
I love the way Anne Roiphe describes the men she meets on the dating websites. I couldn't get over one--I've been emailing people about the outrageous man she had to deal with. In the past when I have read romantic novels, I'd be rooting for the heroine, wanting her to find Mr. Right. But in this case I was on the same page as the author most of the time--I was saying, "No, no, you're better off alone," and, sure enough, each time she decided that this is the case. There was just one time when she hung onto an email relationship for too long in my opinion, and I heaved a sigh of relief when she informed him that he shouldn't write again.
I love her honesty and her humility. She doesn't pretend to be a saint. She admits that she's more involved in her own life than in humanitarian causes most of the time. I feel that this is completely normal when a widow has suffered a terrible shock and has a recovery period to go through.
I enjoy simple writing, and so I'm happiest when she is writing about her feelings or when she gives us glimpses into her marriage and even lists her husband's flaws. I know that this isn't necessarily easy to do. After a spouse's death the temptation is to think of him or her as a saint! My eyes did tend to glaze over when her writing would become more complicated--when she'd over-elaborate about all sorts of issues. I even got a little tired of hearing all the problems her dates had, although these details were somewhat necessary in order to understand her dismissal of them. (At her age she decided that she didn't need an angst-ridden man.) Details, details. The devil is in the details they say. For example when she writes about the possibility of moving, she writes about how a different part of the city might be desirable. I recall one word from her descriptions--"barges." And I remember thinking she's losing me. Also, she starts dwelling on loved ones who have died and goes through a list of cosmetics which her dear departed mom left. Was she trying to convey that all these artifices we use to make ourselves more attractive are useless after death? It's always so hard for me to understand how people like Anne Roiphe can cope with no belief in an afterlife and serious doubts about whether there is a god. Roiphe thumbs her nose at one artifice--hair dye--stating that maybe she'd attract a man more easily if she dyed her hair but is reluctant to do this.
I would gladly read another memoir--perhaps one that has no romantic interests at all in it--one in which she writes more about her new life. Either this or we need to get together, Anne; we just might have much to talk about!
on September 22, 2008
Epilogue (HarperCollins, 2008) is a gripping memoir by National Book Award finalist Anne Roiphe, who was forced to recompose her life after the sudden loss of her husband of 39 years. With compelling candor, Ms. Roiphe shares the intimate memories of her happy marriage and the uncertainties of her life as a new widow. In Booklist, critic Carol Haggas writes, "No one can really prepare a woman for this passage in life, but Roiphe's luminous memoir is a beacon of help, and ultimately hope."
After reading this provocative book, I mulled over its lessons, some of which touch on female friendships, and was thrilled when Ms. Roiphe graciously agreed to expand on some of her thoughts on that topic in an email interview. See her thoughts on female friendships on my blog: [...]
on August 17, 2013
To much "ME" not very enjoyable. Seems she got carried away with finding a male partner. I would have found it better to understand more how to actually deal with the situation of loosing a spouse and not trying to replace one.
on October 13, 2008
As a new widow, I can relate to all the problems, concerns, feelings, adjusting, and just getting on with your life after a husband dies. Anne Roiphe has written such a beautiful memoir of her experience with the death of her husband, it was like she knew what I was feeling, or I knew what she was feeling and going through. I will be sharing this book not only with my widowed friends, but also my married friends. Epilogue: A Memoir, is a book I will be reading over again. I know life goes on after death, and this book shows how this can happen. This book will make you laugh and cry and hope for better days. I could be her friend.
on January 7, 2015
I read this when it first came out and hated it. I had recently lost my husband and expected to find a kindred spirit. Instead it was a lot of self-pity and anger, both to be expected early in the grieving process. But it wasn't what I was looking for. I read it again last summer when I noted that you were selling it again. Time makes a big difference. I understood her anguish and angst, though I had expressed my own in other ways. Still, time also allows for a different perspective. I still hold to my original opinion, but would recommend this to a widow (or widower) of more years than one or two. In responding to Roiphe's feelings of loss of self after dealing with our own, there are opportunities to come to perhaps easier terms with ourselves.