ParentDish Feature: What are you reading? A Widow for One Year

Filed under: Day Care & Education

what are you reading?(June 8, 2007) I stayed up late last night finishing A Widow for One Year. And it wasn't ONLY so I could write this post today and say, "I finished!" but I admit that that was part of it. I have been walking around thinking all morning about how all of the little details that he set up early in the story were taken care of. I saw a description this morning of this novel as John Irving's "most intricately crafted" novel, and while I haven't yet read all of his books (and A Prayer for Owen Meany is staring me down right now), I'd have to agree with that statement. It is the kind of novel that really makes you think of a tapestry with all of the threads interwoven beautifully, and no stragglers hanging out. Every detail, every minor event, had a point that would resurface again later.

As a case in point, one of the novel's protagonists (Ruth Cole) (there are really two main characters whom the book follows from the opening pages to the last), cuts her finger on sharp glass when she is four years old. The other protagonist, Eddie O'Hale, who is 16 years old at the time, tells her that the cut has perfectly bissected her finger, and that nobody else will have a fingerprint quite like hers. That episode comes back when the two characters meet more than thirty years later, and then again, later in the novel, when Ruth witnesses a crime and leaves her perfectly flawed fingerprint at the scene of the crime, leading the investigating officer to find her more than five years after the crime.

I noted last week that John Irving's books have plenty of sex in them, but that the books are more about the consequences of that sex. And that line actually showed up in the novel later! One of the things that faintly irritates me about Irving's plots is that the stories always seem to devolve into dancing bears or weird transvestites whose tongues have been cut out at some point. In this case, it was Ruth's idea (she is a novelist) that she needed to talk to prostitutes in Amsterdam about what it would be like if a woman and her boyfriend wanted to watch the prostitute with a customer. The novel took the shape of farce for awhile, and even though all of the details were later neatly tucked into the tapestry, I find those farcical adventures fairly exhausting.withoutMy husband noted that I was still reading the same novel as last week (this is new for him-- when I am on my romance novel kick, I often have a new book every day), and I said, "It's almost 600 pages long!" But that isn't the whole story. The book is one that I simply had to put down at times. I couldn't just eat it. For one thing, I have noticed that the last few novels I have read have fairly major tragedies in them. A Widow for One Year was yet another novel in which a) children die and b) a female character abandons her family and responsibilities.

This is becoming a disturbing trend. I don't think it can just be an accident that contemporary novelists are writing about women who read too much who leave their families because they just can't deal anymore, and often leave them with weak, alcoholic men who turn out to be much better parents. Whoa! Hang on a minute. As a woman who reads a great deal, I am getting really sick and tired of reading novels that have adult children complaining about how much their mothers read when they were children-- and how the mothers always seemed to resent the interruption of their novels by their children's needs. It occurs to me that this might be my own children's narrative, and that is probably why it irritates me so much. But, hey, protagonists/novelists: Get over it! Also, it's becoming a cliche. I also resent the implication in these novels that women who read a lot are somehow inferior mothers who don't love their children enough. So, maybe I'll have to write the antidote.

But now that I am finished, I feel like I am still digesting this book, and I don't really want to jump back into another novel quite yet. At least, not one that will make me think too hard! So, I don't know whether I'll start a romance novel this weekend, or not. Last night after I finished the book, though, I did pick up a volume of poetry that I bought a few days ago: The Best American Poetry series from 2003. I just read the introduction though, and not yet any of the poems. But I did buy this volume based on recognizing poets' names in the Table of Contents. I majored in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry, so I do know (some) contemporary poets. And poetry is different from novels: You don't read a whole volume of poetry in one sitting. Well, okay, you can, but if you do, you will probably need to read it again, many times. I also bought a collection by Donald Revell (There are Three), whom I admire, and also Donald Hall's book, written in the year after his wife, the marvellous poet Jane Kenyon, died: Without. Several years ago, I read the book of poetry that Tess Gallagher wrote after her husband, the infamous Raymond Carver, died. That book has stayed with me.

This post is becoming a tome, but I wanted to ask you: Are there books that you read and re-read? Or is it just me? Sometimes I think, "Oh, so many books, so little time!" and then I wonder how I could ever re-read a book. But I can't help it: There are books that are as comforting to me as my own pillow instead of the hotel's pillow, and as familiar to me as the lines on my best friend's face. I have recently been thinking about re-reading The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Such a beautifully written book. And it would be rather perfect for summer. Some of the books that I revisit are: Pride and Prejudice (well, all things Jane Austen); The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery; Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. So, I suppose those would be my deserted island books, eh?

As always, I want to hear about what you are reading. I am enjoying our email conversations tremendously, and have already begun to think of you as my friends. (Leian, I have already told people at BlogHer to look out for you!). And I want to leave you, today, with a poem by the marvellous Sharon Olds:

I Go Back to May 1937

by Sharon Olds

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it-she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.