Julia Glass' fourth novel, "The Widower's Tale" is another work rich with the complexities of everyday life. It is a lovely story full of remarkable and fascinating characters. It will please the author's many fans, but it will most likely not have wide popular appeal or significant literary praise.
The book focuses on the lives of four men: Percy, Robert, Celestino, and Ira. The book's chapters are alternately told from the viewpoints of each of these four characters, although only Percy Darling is given the honor of having his story told in the first person. Percy is the widower of the book's title. He is an eccentric retired Harvard librarian. He is fiercely independent and physically robust. Percy is an intellectual with a keen mind and a warm heart. He is the patriarch of a fascinating family consisting of two daughters, two sons-in-law, and three grandchildren.
The second main character is Robert, Percy's grandson. He is a premed student at Harvard who becomes close friends with his college roommate, Arturo. Robert is the admirable young man that almost any parent would be proud of having raised. Unfortunately, through Arturo, Robert is drawn into a world of college-prank-style acts of local eco-terrorism.
The third main character is Ira, a teacher working in the preschool that is located in the barn behind Percy's home. Ira's partner, Antony, is a successful divorce lawyer helping Percy's daughter with a custody battle. Both men become close friends of Percy and his family.
The fourth main character is Celestino, an illegal Guatemalan immigrant working as a gardener for Percy's next-door neighbor. Percy, Robert, and Ira each become good friends with Celestino. Ultimately, it is Celestino's story that upstages Percy's and steals the reader's heart.
During the course of the novel, each of these four characters must chart his course through a major personal crisis. Many of the secondary characters also navigate their own crises. The less I tell you about those crises the better, because they are the thin thread of a plot that holds the whole together. In the end, all the crises intersect in vivid display demonstrating the interconnectedness of life.
The subtle theme of the novel is that web of life. The author reminds us that as we navigate the shoals of our personal lives, we must all bear responsibility not only for how the web of life intersects with our own unique close family and friends, but also with the wider world, and ultimately with the planet itself.
Personally, it was a marvelous pleasure to read this novel -- to once again have the joy of getting to know a whole new group of captivating characters made real through the literary artistry of Julia Glass. Through the clutter of many characters and many crises, the novel overflowed with a magnificent richness. Unfortunately, there was no tension in the plot that pulled the reader through the whole. Reading this book felt just like living everyday life alongside these people. It was a joy for me, but I am sure that many may find this type of storytelling unsatisfying. Julia Glass' first novel was a National-Book-Award-winning success. It also wove many characters and many crises into a magnificent richness. Perhaps, what that novel had, that this novel and her last two novels lacked, is a central main character that stands out above all the rest. In "Three Junes" that character was Fenno McLeod. He was the central altarpiece of Glass' magnificent literary triptych. I will never forget Fenno McLeod, but I will no doubt soon forget all the lovely characters that inhabit this splendid novel.
Definitely read this book if you are a Julia Glass fan. If you've never read Julia Glass before, start with her masterpiece, "Three Junes."