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A Widow's Story: A Memoir [Paperback]

Joyce Carol Oates
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

‘My husband died, my life collapsed.’

On a February morning in 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drove her ailing husband, Raymond Smith, to the emergency room of the Princeton Medical Center where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Both Joyce and Ray expected him to be released in a day or two. But in less than a week, even as Joyce was preparing for his discharge, Ray was dead from a hospital-acquired virulent infection, and Joyce was suddenly faced – totally unprepared – with the reality of widowhood.

‘A Widow's Story’ illuminates one woman's struggle to comprehend a life absent of the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of ‘death duties’, and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief – the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous ‘pools’ of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning.

Enlivened by the piercing vision, acute perception and mordant humour that are the hallmarks of the work of Joyce Carol Oates, this is a extremely moving tale of life and death, love and grief.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 0007388179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007388172
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

Product Description


‘This is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time. One is with her, every inch of the way, as if her story were one's own.’ Observer

‘There are memorable sentences on every page, little crystalline moments that leap out and stay imprinted in your mind for days afterwards. It’s an extraordinary piece of work – naked, unflinching and unforgettable.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Comparisons can be made with Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” but every grief is subtly different and Oates has become a new version of herself in her ways and in her words, which reveal the processes of the writer as much as the progress of the woman.’ The Times

‘Oates's writing is so incisive, so beautifully revealing of what it means to "inhabit a free-fall world from which meaning has been drained", that it is difficult to open this book without crying … a memoir so eloquent and raw as this can only make a reader aware of two things: 1) Bereavement is devastating, indescribable and impossible to bear; and 2) It will happen to us all. This memoir, and its author's continuing life, are beautiful tributes to Raymond Smith.’ Independent on Sunday

‘Oates’s tender account of her long marriage and her brief widowhood is raw, and doesn’t shrink from exposing the weakness, ugliness and selfishness of extreme grief, as well as its bitter comedy.‘ Daily Telegraph

‘This writer is a phenomenon, and even though in the past she has shied away from personal writing, the memoir form was surely an obvious one. Perceptive, moving and oddly entertaining, “A Widow’s Story” takes us on a passionate journey into the nature of loss and the mystery of love.’ Daily Mail

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her books include We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. She 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. In 2003 she received the Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature, and in 2006 she received the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not that deranged 21 Feb 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Divided into 88 segments, mostly short, this book opens with an episode in which Joyce finds an abusive note on the windscreen of her car, complaining of her parking. In the next segment, she and husband Ray Smith are involved in a serious motor accident that could easily have been fatal, but the injuries they sustain are mostly inflicted only by the explosively inflating airbags. In segment three, Joyce takes Ray to the Emergency Room of the Princeton Medical Center, where he is found to have E.coli pneumonia. In segment fourteen, he dies.

Much of what happens before Ray dies is a waking nightmare. But for Joyce matters are not yet done with moving from bad to worse; the nightmare still has a long way to run.

Clearing the hospital room of Ray's belongings, selecting and visiting an undertaker and buying a burial plot are still not the worst of it. Joyce calls the phase immediately following the death 'pre-widowhood', when the widow hasn't yet got it - what it will mean to inhabit a free-fall world from which meaning has been drained. Beyond that is the 'post-humous life' - life after Ray - which for months to come is worse yet; worst of all.

We know Joyce will eventually be OK when she responds to a floral tribute that warns "Important: decorative plant mosses should not be eaten" with 'A widow may be deranged, but a widow is not that deranged.' Nevertheless, for several months both present and future appear utterly bleak.

She develops various coping mechanisms, such as 'each day is livable if divided into segments - Morning - Afternoon I - Afternoon II - Evening - Night'.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a factual account 31 Mar 2011
By Mrs. A. Wright VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was hesitant to take this book as I thought it would be full of sentimentality and rather depressing to read. In fact it is a matter of fact account of a widow trying to cope with the sudden death of her husband and the guilt she felt because she was not with him when he died and because she had insisted on taking him to the Emergency Room. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book but did find the second half more difficult as it seemed to wander aimlessly through the pages and seemed rather too analytical. I am not a widow but as a nurse dealt with many new widows and in family life suffered bereavements I recognise many stages of the grieving process described with such frank honesty by Ms. Oates such as the guilt, confusion, staring into space forgetting he is dead for a minute and many other signs. I found her coping mechanisms extremely interesting. Her love for Ray was obvious and I found myself thinking I would have loved to meet him. I think because of the lack of sentiment that widows or those helping widows might benefit from the book but also any one who has lost someone would be able to identify with many points and realise that their own reactions were entirely normal. The teaching of theory of bereavement is notoriously difficult so I would also recommend it to nurses and other professionals dealing with the subject.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A journey through grief. 5 April 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Joyce Carol Oates' thought provoking memoir lingers days after completion. It is touching and affecting, but for me it is not so much the emotional intensity of the experiences she describes with such openness that remains days after - in fact much of the book has an objective quality that, whilst moving, does not, at least for me, sweep the reader along on a wave of high, tormented emotion: its effect, I think, is more understated than that.

Oates' exploration of the impact of grief on her sense of self is especially compelling. She has become `the widow', `the executrix', a functionary defined by her overwhelming grief and the new role it gives her: her `other' selves, Joyce Smith (the wife, friend, teacher etc) and Joyce Carol Oates (the esteemed and prolific writer) seem false, alien and unimportant, no longer real or worthwhile now that her husband is dead. She resumes the persona of teacher surprisingly soon, but is horrified that some students offer sympathy: they must be aware of this `non-person' beneath the charade. She returns to the world of literary talks, addresses to student groups etc, almost watching herself from the outside, this figure quite disengaged from the consciousness her daily life inhabits. She is pleased, but amazed when people comment that she is `doing well': in fact, her world is broken.

She quotes Nietzsche tellingly (the text is full of interesting references to writers whom Oates admires): 'What someone is, begins to be revealed when his talent abates, when he stops showing what he can do'. Her response is: `To this the widow can add: What I am begins to be revealed now that I am alone. In such revelation is terror.' Now that Ray is dead, she is merely `the widow' who must behave as widows behave.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the unreal world of grief 18 Mar 2011
By F. Griffiths VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I preferred this to 'A Year of Magical Thinking' because of the moments in it when I forgot to breathe. I could, despite not being widowed, identify with the emotional thin skin which is all that protects us in grief and can be pierced so easily eg the incident with the seat at the airport. Normal life in somewhere else. I was amazed by Joyce Carol Oates ability to remember in such detail the important and unimportant details. Her coping mechanism of switching into her author mode,even though it was a transparent cocoon, with may have saved her at times from the devastation of being the one left behind in a childless very close marriage. She doesn't give us any easy answers as to how to approach/respond to those who have been widowed - a state she sees as a punishment. No cliches escape but those who speak from their hearts are accepted and her wide variety of eloquent friends have taken the place of family. I hope writing the book helped her in refreshing the happy memories as well as recording her pain. It is a long book and at times difficult to read. It is intensely personal and beautifully written and I was totally absorbed by it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much personal philosopy.
As I am a recent widow, I longed for recognition of my anguish and distress over the loss of my husband. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Sergan
5.0 out of 5 stars detailed and insightful account of bereavement
I found this account amazingly well written and well described. Joyce's physical and emotional responses in the days immediately following the unexpected death of her husband and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by olivia winterton
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest, heartbreaking and brilliant.
Gripping, heartbreaking, searingly honest and brilliant. I would highly recommend this memoir as an insight into the unimaginable grief of losing a beloved life partner.
Published 11 months ago by Vicky Riddiford
3.0 out of 5 stars grief examined
I found the almost endless self-pity hard to take,but persevered with it, and the writing was very good. Read more
Published 11 months ago by MRS FMA HUTCHISON
5.0 out of 5 stars a widows story
I bought this book for work, as I work in a hospice. also very useful for my work with Cruse bereavement care
Published 14 months ago by S. Reynolds
2.0 out of 5 stars Very Harrowing & miserable
This book tells the very harrowing tale of how a woman copes when her husband dies unexpectedly
Right from the start when he is rushed into hosptal & through the different... Read more
Published 15 months ago by T. Andrews
4.0 out of 5 stars An accurate description of how a widow feels after a husbands death
All the emotions that I have gone through since my hsband died in Apriland good guidance on how to cope with all these emotions. Read more
Published 15 months ago by islay barr
2.0 out of 5 stars A boring read
I bought this having been widowed 3 years ago. There was a bit of interest here and there and things I could identify with, but on the whole I didn't like the format. Read more
Published 16 months ago by HilaryC
5.0 out of 5 stars A Widows Story
Prompt response and delivery. A very good book especially for those recently widowed who are finding it hard to cope and wonder if everyone who loses their soul mate goes through... Read more
Published on 31 Aug 2011 by pat
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great Joyce Carol Oates book
Already a fan of Joyce Carol Oates, I was looking forward to reading her latest work. This time, Joyce is writing a memoir after the death of her husband Ray. Read more
Published on 30 July 2011 by Candi Says
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