A Widow’s Story

Joyce Carol Oates

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.

Reviews of A Widow’s Story

  • ‘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

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