Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: "A Widow for One Year" by John Irving

Even in the darkest moments of his novels, John Irving seems to have great warmth surrounding everything he writes. He is a classical novelist in the most pure sense: he doesn’t have a political agenda and he doesn’t try to meld your brain with complex narrative or oddball syntax. He is a storyteller first and foremost, and despite it not being the masterpieces that are some of his earlier novels, A Widow for One Year, is still something to be cherished while reading. Irving is such a compassionate author, and treats his characters with an astounding amount of dignity, even when they are in the midst of doing something stupid, wrong or heinous, or all of the above. While I would argue that the thing that is missing from this particular novel is a large scope and a sense of urgency and intrigue as to what might happen in the story, it never gets boring, and contains passages that are some of Irving’s best. The novel focuses on Ruth Cole, a famous writer who is both a celebrity and critical darling. The novel is divided into three sections which each occur at a tumultuous time in her life. We meet her at the age of four in 1958, where she is a pawn to grieving parents in a game of romantic manipulation, at age thirty-six where we find her surrounded by death, and at age forty-one, a recent widow who will fall in love for the first time. It is hard to argue that this book warranted its massive page count, it’s a much more intimate story than what I am used to from Irving, and he seemed to be padding the book, especially toward the end. But there are scenes here as I said that are great, involving a murder that is the most aggressively violent thing that Irving has written and causing the witness in that murder to become his most flawed creation. I really did like this book, and even though it is no masterpiece, I still suggest you seek this book out.

Rating: 4/5

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