A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates

This emotional memoir is an unusual reading experience. In a sense, it is a book about the complex inner life of a writer who depended on her husband for a wide variety of things. The text takes pride in its ostensible honesty- certainly little is not discussed. Emails, poetry, politics, illness, religion, medication and philosophy are all included in the frantic narrative. However, amid the broken thinking about thinking about the past the question of the author’s motivation remains elusive.

The writer bemoans the impact of capitalism on the responses to grief. Nonetheless, she has packaged her own sadness and sold it to the world. Her husband is not given much of a role in the text as her own feelings are given precedence. His love and kindness are mentioned, but his patient gardening and editing is juxtaposed with the writer’s unfortunate passion for Nietzsche. The unconvincing aphorisms of the philosopher make one think of the relevance of Voltaire. Voltaire appreciated the value of communal gardening and was not as delusional as Nietzsche.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the author has a remarkable way with words. Her copious references to Plath, Sexton and Dickinson do not seem utterly out of place. And she is ready to embrace criticism:

“Vicious reviews, opprobrium of all sorts are the writer’s punishment for being a writer.”


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