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A Widow for One Year: A Novel by [Irving, John]
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3.6 out of 5 stars 699 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

John Irving fans will not be startled to find that A Widow for One Year is a sprawling farce-tragedy crawling with characters who are writers. In the opening scene, 4-year-old Ruth Cole walks in on her melancholy mother, Marion, who is in flagrante with 16-year-old Eddie, the driver for drunken Ted (Ruth's dad and Marion's estranged, womanizing husband).

Eddie spends the rest of his life obsessively writing novels like Sixty Times, his roman à clef about his 60 seductions by Marion. Ted is a failed novelist who gets rich and famous writing creepy children's stories based on tales he tells Ruth (such as The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls). Marion abandons Ruth, Ted, and Eddie and becomes a successful pseudonymous novelist. And Ruth becomes the most richly celebrated writer of them all because of her early training by Ted, who not only told her stories, but also helped her craft narratives to explain their home's many photographs of her brothers, who died in a gory car wreck the year before she was born. Grief over the boys is why Ruth's mother does not dare to love her.

Ruth, Irving's first female main character, works brilliantly, first as an imaginative, almost Salingeresque child coming to terms with her bewildering family, then as a grownup striving to understand her mother's motives--or at least to track her down. Ted is a mordantly funny caricature, interestingly sinister and plausibly self-justifying when most inexcusable. Eddie is a lovable schlemiel, yet not too sentimentally drawn. And what set pieces Irving can write! The story of the boys' death is horrific and effective in dramatizing the character of Ted, who narrates it. Ted's attempted murder by a spurned lover is as hilarious as the VW-down-the-marble-stairway scene in A Prayer for Owen Meany (which has been adapted by Disney Studios), though not quite on a par with the celebrated "Pension Grillparzer" episode in The World According to Garp (reissued in a 20th anniversary edition by Modern Library).

Irving has the effrontery to get away with practically any scene that comes into his head--Ruth winds up an eyewitness to a hooker's murder in Amsterdam, a Dutch detective starts tracking her down (just as Ruth is hunting Marion), and the multiple plot strands all converge in a finale that neatly echoes the opening scene. It's all done with the outrageously coincidental yet minutely realistic brio of Charles Dickens, with a sad, self-conscious jokiness like that of Irving's mentor, Kurt Vonnegut. --Tim Appelo

From Library Journal

The first half of Irving's ninth novel tells the story of Eddie O'Hare, a prep school student with literary aspirations who lands a job as a personal assistant to noted children's author Ted Cole in the summer of 1958. O'Hare spends most of the time in bed with Cole's wife, Marion. The second half of the book describes O'Hare's acquaintance, decades later, with Ruth Cole, Ted's daughter, who is also a successful writer. While researching her latest novel, Ruth witnesses the murder of an Amsterdam window prostitute. Irving tantalizes us with this promising subplot, then veers off in another direction. As in The World According to Garp (LJ 6/1/78), nearly every character in the book churns out reams of Irving-esque prose. It's hard to empathize with these dreary people, and their picaresque adventures seem to lack any thematic relevance. Instead of ending, the book simply runs out of steam. Still, there are legions of rabid Irving fans who will want to read every word he has written. For larger fiction collections.
-?Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2073 KB
  • Print Length: 562 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st trade ed edition (December 21, 1999)
  • Publication Date: December 21, 1999
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000QCS9LO
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,348 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Callaway on March 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
John Irving has once again written a story with fully realized, complex characters. Those who have read his previous books will find him delving into familiar themes: sexual coming of age, unspeakable tragedy, and the seedier side of European culture (in this case, Amsterdam's red light district). The results are mixed, with the beginning of the book far more interesting and satisfying than the end (small wonder the movie "The Door in the Floor" is based only on the first half of Irving's tome).

The story begins in the summer of 1958 on Long Island. Sixteen year old Eddie O'Hare takes a job working an assistant in the home of children's author/illustrator Ted Cole. It's a sad household with Ted and his wife, Marion, struggling to cope with the deaths of their two teenage sons years earlier. Marion is especially depressed and is unable to show any affection towards their young daughter, Ruth. She's also obsessed with the many pictures of her late sons that hang throughout the house. Ted dotes on Ruth, but is a flagrant womanizer, using his celebrity to attract mothers and their daughters into his studio to "pose" for him. Things become even more complicated when Marion has an affair with young Eddie.

Were the story to remain focused on the odd triangle of Marion, Ted and Eddie, it would stand alone as one of Irving's best novels. The relationships are complex and engaging, and Marion's inability to move on after the deaths of her sons is heart wrenching. Irving, however, chooses to make "A Widow for One Year" Ruth's story, following her into adulthood where she becomes successful as an author (as does Eddie on a smaller scale), but mostly unsuccessful in her personal relationships.
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Format: Paperback
I have read almost all of John Irving's novels and have been thoroughly entertained by all of them. This novel is no exception. It was over 500 pages long yet I was able to read it very quickly. Unlike some other readers, it kept my attention to the end. I agree with others, though, that it is no Owen Meany or Ciderhouse Rules. I thought Marion, Ted, and Eddie were wonderfully wrought, believeable, and interesting characters. However, I found the protagonist, Ruth, to be pretty superficial. The only understanding I had of her character was that she had wonderful, large breasts. (I may have liked the book even better if her breasts were not mentioned so frequently.) I thought her character was the most interesting at age four. Futhermore, I found it difficult to see what the point was to this novel. What kind of social commentary is he making? Big breasted women are superior? Tragedies really screw up families? Ruth's gradual understanding of her mother's reasons for leaving her seems obvious and forced. Although I have these criticisms, I do give the novel four stars for its entertainment value. The story line was creative and the foreshadowing actually helped me stay interested. It was a good read, although I would not consider it a great literary achievement.
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By A Customer on July 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
John Irving has again given us a sprawling, multi-generational saga of personal heartache and how family members come to grips with tragedy. Like many of his other novels, the characters in Widow for A Year suffer extreme loss, and yet this novel does not kill off characters as abruptly and carelessly as some of Irving's former novels (like the plane crash in Hotel New Hampshire, or the devastating car crash in Garp).
Essentially the themes of the novel are grief and sex, not necessarily in that order. The novel begins with 4 year old Ruth Cole walking in on her mother, who is in bed with a teenage writer's assistant hired by her estranged husband Ted, a writer of cildren's books. The mother, Marion, is overwhelmed with grief from the loss of her teenage sons in a car accident that predated the action in the novel, and Irving skillfully fills in a few details about the crash for much of the book, until Ted describes the accident in devastating detail later.
The grief affects Ted and Marion in different ways, and while he goes on with his life and continues writing children's horror stories, Marion simply cannot handle life in the house she shared with her boys. Some of the most effective passages in the novel concern the multitude of framed photographs taken of the late Cole boys scattered on the walls of their house in the Hamptons, and the efforts of sister little Ruth, (who was born after her brothers' death), to reimagine the shots after they are removed by her mom.
Marion ultimately becomes a strangely unsympathetic character, and her forced reappearance toward the end of the novel seems forced and contrived.
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Format: Paperback
A Widow for One Year has got to be my favorite John Irving novel. Many of his others, while I have enjoyed them, have put me off a little because the characters and/or the plot is a bit over the top, just too quirky for me. Widow, while imaginative and entertaining, never gets to that too much stage. It's a big novel, spanning about 40 years and has a satisfying, yet never hokey or corny ending. The characters, of course, are a bit quirky in their way, but their quirkiness is somehow more believable than in other Irving novels. The story is a lot of fun, and, because most of the characters are writers, allows Irving to explain and comment on the writing process. I felt at some times he was answering his own critics while discussing the criticism of his character-writers. He has fun with the whole thing, though, and never takes it too seriously, which is part of what makes this novel so enjoyable. Widow is really a human story about loss and how far some of us will go for love. Enjoy.
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