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A Widow for One Year by John Irving
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A Widow for One Year (1998)

by John Irving

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,85182537 (3.69)1 / 120
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English (71)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  German (2)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (82)
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In the opening section of the book, the year is 1958 and Ruth Cole is four years old. Although she is a loved child, her parents do not have a happy marriage. Her two older brothers had died four years ago in a car accident, and she is constantly reminded of their presence from the pictures of their childhood hanging on the walls of the Cole family home. Ruth's father, Ted Cole, writes successful children's books, and hires Eddie O'Hare, a teenager who attends Phillips Exeter Academy, the same school as Ruth's two late brothers, to work as his assistant for the summer. Eddie is unwittingly drawn into a plot orchestrated by Ted to drive his unhappy wife, Marion, to infidelity. Marion, unable to forget her dead sons, shows little affection to her daughter. Ted has always conducted extramarital affairs and would likely lose in a custody battle for Ruth in divorce court. If Marion had an affair, he feels that this would strengthen the case for custody to be awarded to him. Ted picks Eddie specifically to tempt Marion, since he bears a striking resemblance to his two dead sons. Eddie and Marion's affair leads to Marion's disappearance at the end of the summer. It is 1990 and Ruth is 36. She is in Europe, dealing with the failures of her love life as she herself becomes a successful writer. Ruth is doing research on prostitutes in Amsterdam's red light district, and finds herself hiding in a closet while she observes the murder of a prostitute by the prostitute's client. She makes note of certain details of the murder which, in the future, lead to the murderer's arrest. Having solved the murder case, the detective is left with the identity of the mysterious "witness" unknown. Third section Ruth is now 41, has a son, and is about to fall in love for the first time. This section covers Ruth's brief widowhood ("A Widow for One Year" is a literal description of Ruth's situation as well as a quote from one of her novels). The detective, who solved the murder case that Ruth witnessed four years before, is now able to discover the witness' true identity. Because Ruth included details of the victim's room in her novel, and because the detective happened to be a fan of Ruth Cole's work, he was able to identify his witness. Ruth discovers that the murder was solved and the murderer caught. In the course of her meeting with the detective, he and Ruth fall in love, and after a whirlwind romance in Paris (the next stop on Ruth's book tour) he agrees to follow Ruth to Vermont where they marry. Eddie O'Hare and Ruth, unexpectedly, re-unite with a woman that chose not to be in their lives (for a reasonable amount of years).They end up living happily in Vermont, which is a tribute to John Irving's own life.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Didn't care for it and wouldn't recommend it. It was a disciplined slog to finally reach the last sentence which had the singular benefit of indicating that my long, literary trek was over. Reading this, it occurred to me that Mr. Irving may be suffering from the curse of popularity which incapacitates editors to utter things like: "John? What the hell is this?" For whatever reasons, the book seemed self-aggrandizing to a fault, while the irrational and prolific use of italics and exclamation points eludes explanation altogether. Not my cup of tea I guess.

Undaunted, however, I am now in possession of Mr. Irving's latest offering "Avenue of Mysteries." We'll see. ( )
  Renzomalo | Jan 23, 2016 |
I definitely don't like Irving's style. Too crude for me, and the characters don't really touch my heart.
The ending is great, but it was hard for me to get to it! ( )
  CathCD | Jan 16, 2016 |
This book was tricky, one unique layer of story overlapping another complete different and unique one and there were several such stories inter-folded. I liked some of it, I disliked a lot of it. I have to credit the author for creating such a complex storyline and then pulling it off so successfully. The best part about this book were the children's stories Ruth's father the great painter children's writer created. Those were smart and horror striking at the same time. I have severe mixed feelings regarding this book, and I had read it real slow.. ( )
2 vote PsYcHe_Sufi | Jul 12, 2015 |
Got it as paperback, but listened to the audio book instead.
Read by George Guidall who reads really well and has a fling for foreign place names and imitating 4-year-olds! Really good.
Irving, one more time, is an intricate story weaver. He never tells, he weaves.
Such a long story can't always be narrated on an equally high level, but it always seems that he had the whole thing in mind before splitting it up and adding to fill 1000 odd pages.

And rarely have I read a novel with such a beautiful, unexpected, heart-rendering and come-full-circle final sentence as in this one.
  Kindlegohome | Jul 9, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Irvingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Commandeur, SjaakTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"... as for this little lady, the best thing I can wish her is a little misfortune" -William Makepeace Thackeray
Dedication
For Janet, a love story.
First words
One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking- it was coming from her parents' bedroom.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345424719, Paperback)

John Irving fans will not be startled to find that A Widow for One Year is a sprawling farce-tragedy crawling with characters who are writers. In the opening scene, 4-year-old Ruth Cole walks in on her melancholy mother, Marion, who is in flagrante with 16-year-old Eddie, the driver for drunken Ted (Ruth's dad and Marion's estranged, womanizing husband).

Eddie spends the rest of his life obsessively writing novels like Sixty Times, his roman à clef about his 60 seductions by Marion. Ted is a failed novelist who gets rich and famous writing creepy children's stories based on tales he tells Ruth (such as The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls). Marion abandons Ruth, Ted, and Eddie and becomes a successful pseudonymous novelist. And Ruth becomes the most richly celebrated writer of them all because of her early training by Ted, who not only told her stories, but also helped her craft narratives to explain their home's many photographs of her brothers, who died in a gory car wreck the year before she was born. Grief over the boys is why Ruth's mother does not dare to love her.

Ruth, Irving's first female main character, works brilliantly, first as an imaginative, almost Salingeresque child coming to terms with her bewildering family, then as a grownup striving to understand her mother's motives--or at least to track her down. Ted is a mordantly funny caricature, interestingly sinister and plausibly self-justifying when most inexcusable. Eddie is a lovable schlemiel, yet not too sentimentally drawn. And what set pieces Irving can write! The story of the boys' death is horrific and effective in dramatizing the character of Ted, who narrates it. Ted's attempted murder by a spurned lover is as hilarious as the VW-down-the-marble-stairway scene in A Prayer for Owen Meany (which has been adapted by Disney Studios), though not quite on a par with the celebrated "Pension Grillparzer" episode in The World According to Garp (reissued in a 20th anniversary edition by Modern Library).

Irving has the effrontery to get away with practically any scene that comes into his head--Ruth winds up an eyewitness to a hooker's murder in Amsterdam, a Dutch detective starts tracking her down (just as Ruth is hunting Marion), and the multiple plot strands all converge in a finale that neatly echoes the opening scene. It's all done with the outrageously coincidental yet minutely realistic brio of Charles Dickens, with a sad, self-conscious jokiness like that of Irving's mentor, Kurt Vonnegut. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Three interludes in the life of Roth Cole, writer and daughter of writers.

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