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How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper
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How To Talk To A Widower (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Jonathan Tropper

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Member:booketta
Title:How To Talk To A Widower
Authors:Jonathan Tropper
Info:Orion (2007), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:To read
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How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper (2007)

Recently added byMargeryw, knowledge_lost, Maijan, Kimberly_P, lulaa, sandefitz, harefoot, private library, NBlichmann

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“I had a wife. Her name was Hailey. Now she’s gone. And so am I.”

This one reoccurring line not only serves as a mantra for Doug Parker, it also sums up the essence of How to Talk to a Widower. A year ago Doug lost his with in a plane crash and he has been grieving ever since. The people around him tend to think that it is time for him to move on, he is only twenty-nine, and he still has a whole life ahead of him. For Doug, that is not the case, his wife is gone, and so is he. On the surface this novel feels like it has the makings of a bad sitcom, with a blend of humour and melodrama; however there is so much going on the under the surface worth exploring.

Essentially How to Talk to a Widower is a study into grief and the emotions behind losing someone close. However I feel like this novel explores the idea of holding onto grief. How long can we hold on? At some point the grief becomes a part of us and it not only controls us but it defines us. We can fall into an endless spiral without any hope of escape; it felt like Doug was trapped in this endless spiral at time but then we get these little glimpses of hope. Not sure if he is healing or it is just false hope.

Doug Parker is an interesting character; he is so flawed and there is something so genuine about him. Grief has defined him and he often uses it as an excuse for his self-destructive ways. Doug loves women, to an extent where it felt like he has an attraction to every woman he meets; they were all beautiful. “Sometimes you walk past a pretty girl on the street there’s something beyond beauty in her face, something warm and smart and inviting, and in the three seconds you have to look at her, you actually fall in love, and in those moments, you can actually know the taste of her kiss, the feel of her skin against yours, the sound of her laugh, how she’ll look at you and make you whole. And then she’s gone, and in the five seconds afterwards, you mourn her loss with more sadness than you’ll ever admit to.” While we know that Doug loves and misses his wife, Jonathan Tropper has the ability to strip his characters bare and expose every part for their personality.

When Doug lost his wife he was only 29; Hailey was eleven years older and had a teenage son from a previous family. Her son, Russ is suffering just as much as Doug; he feels he not only lost his mother but his stepfather has also abandoned him. He was shipped off to live with his father who is bad news. He acts up and does everything to get some attention. Like I’ve said before, this novel is so melodramatic but it is all bittersweet.

I love the complexity that is found in this novel, not just with Doug and Russ, but even Doug’s sister Claire and his family are all so complicated that reading the drama in this book is both enjoyable and often sad. Even the woman Doug starts sleeping comes with her own set of flaws and complexities. “She was smart and funny and vulnerable and just so goddamned beautiful, the kind of beautiful that was worth being shot down over.” She is such a mystery; I wanted to know what is her motivation? Why is she attracted to Doug? She is just a sexual output for the protagonist and there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind her motivation. This mystery is what I’m drawn to; I want to know more. I like how she is described as voluptuous and she seems to have an air about her I can’t help but want to explore.

Even though there is so much drama in the novel, there is humour that runs throughout How to Talk to a Widower. I can’t help but get a sense of irony from this novel. The title alone makes the book sound like a self-help book and then he is writing a column in M magazine with the same title. One suspects that the column is an advice column as well but it is just an output for his grief. The humour that is tangled up in the grief and melodrama really brought this novel together, like the glue that holds it all together.

Think of this novel like dick-lit (chick-lit from a male perspective), think of it as something the Nick Hornsby may write, however I think this was better. The drama was touching, intense and executed beautifully. All the relationship dilemmas, his off kilter family, and the grief all was balanced wonderfully in How to Talk to a Widower. I laughed, cried and wanted to reread read all the wonderful lines. I know this novel isn’t going to be for everyone but I’m so glad I read it. I will be reading more Jonathan Tropper’s books and I must check out Banshee, which he co-created with David Schickler (who wrote an amazing memoir).

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/06/07/how-to-talk-to-a-widower-by-jonathan-... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 7, 2014 |
This is the third Tropper novel I have read, the first being This is Where I Leave You. I liked both of them a lot. They are poignant, sweet, funny, vicious, and insightful. His family dinner scenes are classic. They have you laughing out loud only to get sucker punched by the perceptiveness. He does this through the classic comedian's technique of hyperbole, but it's not exaggerated so much that it becomes caricature. We've all seen elements of his dysfunctional family in ourselves and others.

His books (from what I've read his others do also) also relate to how we deal with death; in this one Doug Parker, age twenty-nine, wallows in self-pity after the death of his wife, Hailey, in a plane crash. She was older than he and came with a twelve-year-old son, Russ.

At the dinner celebrating his sister Deb's upcoming marriage, as things go from bad to worse,

Russ [Doug's stepson] excuses himself for a minute, is gone for fifteen, and comes back with his eyes glazed over. “You had to get high right now?” I whisper to him. “It was so important?” “It was a biological imperative, dude. It is fucking intense in here.” “It’s just dinner with the family.” “Come on, man. It’s like there’s a hunk of C4 strapped to the table and we’re all just waiting to see when it will detonate. I can’t believe you dragged me here.”

It’s a tricky enough business forming a friendship with a pissed-off teenager under the best of circumstances. Now try it when you’re sleeping with his mother, when you are, quite literally, a motherfucker. Let me tell you, that requires a whole other skill set. When I first moved in, I knew I’d have to make an effort to bond with Russ so that Hailey could feel good about the whole arrangement. If she didn’t, it wasn’t like she was going to give her kid the boot. Last one hired, first one fired. And so I applied myself like a laid-back uncle, giving him lifts to school or the mall to meet his friends, taking him to the occasional weeknight movie, editing his term papers, and, more recently, taking him out for driving practice in my secondhand Saab. I was a lazy boy and I am a lazy man, and the beauty of the situation was that I wasn’t really expected to be a parent to Russ, which, based on the limited wisdom I have to offer, was a win-win situation for all involved.


They had not been married long and Doug refuses to admit that life goes on: his twin sister is leaving her husband after becoming pregnant and his younger sister, Deb, is getting married to Mike whom she met at Doug's shiva for Hailey, a source of much resentment. Then there is his dad who has just survived a personality-changing stroke. Doug, a columnist, has begin writing a column which is becoming increasingly popular, called "How to Talk to a Widower."

Doug has become a self-imposed social outcast, spending his time throwing rocks (and cell phone) at the rabbits in his yard, saying the kinds of things I guess we all wish we had the guts to. "I lost something after Hailey died. I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s the device that stops you from telling the truth when people ask you how you’re doing, that vital valve that keeps your deeper, truer emotions under lock and key. I don’t know exactly when I lost it, or how to get it back, but for now, when it comes to tact, civility, and discretion, I’m an accident waiting to happen, over and over again." So you get marvelously delicious scenes like this one:

"... few weeks ago, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Jew for Jesus or some other freak on happy pills selling God in a pamphlet showed up at my door, smiling like a cartoon, and said, “Have you let God into your life?” “God can fuck himself.” He smiled beatifically at me, like I’d just complimented his crappy JCPenney suit. “I once felt the way you do, brother.” “You’re not my brother,” I hissed at him. “And you have never felt like this. If you’d ever felt like this, you would still feel like this, because it doesn’t go away."

And the scene where he goes out on a date with a divorcee who has two young children is priceless. Let's just say part of it involves him noting that he usually doesn't mop up vomit until the third date.

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Twenty-nine year old Doug Parker is a widower finding it incredibly difficult to come to terms with the death of his wife. On top of that his sixteen year old stepson, Russ, is getting into trouble, his bossy twin sister Clair, newly pregnant, has left her husband and moved in and his other high achieving sister, Debbie, is engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and determined to have the perfect wedding.

Hilarious - I love Troppers turn and phrase and he certainly delves deep into depression. Well worth a read! ( )
  boppisces | Sep 18, 2013 |
Too much wallowing: acceptable in real life, not appreciated in fiction. ( )
  cherilove | Jun 6, 2013 |
Reiterating everyone else´s comments, but this read like a screenplay which had moments of brilliance, but I ended up skimming a whole lot. It just didn´t live up to the hype or the promise of the first chapter. ( )
  thiscatsabroad | Apr 5, 2013 |
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For Alexa Rose, who hangs with me in the wee small hours with love
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Russ is stoned. You can see it in the whites of his eyes, which are actually more of a glazed pink under the flickering yellow porch light, in the dark discs of his dilated pupils, in the way his eyelids hang sluggishly at half-mast, and in the careless manner in which he leans nonchalantly against the pissed-off cop that is propping him up at my front door, like they're drinking buddies staggering out into the night after last call.
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The point is people become possessive of their grief, almost proud of it.  They want to believe it’s like no one else’s.  But it is.  It’s exactly like everybody else’s. Grief is like a shark.  It’s been around forever, and in that time there’s been just about no evolution.  You know why? Because it’s perfect just the way it is.
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Book description
Doug Parker is a widower at age twenty-nine, and in his quiet suburban town, that makes him something of a celebrity—the object of sympathy, curiosity, and, in some cases, unbridled desire. But Doug has other things on his mind. First there's his sixteen year-old stepson, Russ: a once-sweet kid who now is getting into increasingly serious trouble on a daily basis. Then there are Doug's sisters: his bossy twin, Clair, who's just left he husband and moved in with Doug, determined to rouse him from his Grieving stupor. And Debbie, who's engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and manically determined to pull off the perfect wedding at any cost.

Soon Doug's entire nuclear family is in his face. And when he starts dipping his toes into the shark-infested waters of the second-time around dating scene, it isn't long before his new life is spinning hopelessly out of control, cutting a harrowing and often hilarious swath of sexual missteps and escalating chaos across the suburban landscape.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385338910, Paperback)

"Beautifully crafted", "Fantastically funny." "Compulsively readable." Jonathan Tropper has earned wild acclaim—-and comparisons to Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta—for his biting humor and insightful portrayals of families in crisis and men behaving badly. Now the acclaimed author of The Book of Joe and Everything Changes tackles love, lust, and lost in the suburbs—in a stunning novel that is by turns heartfelt and riotously funny.

Doug Parker is a widower at age twenty-nine, and in his quiet suburban town, that makes him something of a celebrity—the object of sympathy, curiosity, and, in some cases, unbridled desire. But Doug has other things on his mind. First there's his sixteen year-old stepson, Russ: a once-sweet kid who now is getting into increasingly serious trouble on a daily basis. Then there are Doug's sisters: his bossy twin, Clair, who's just left he husband and moved in with Doug, determined to rouse him from his Grieving stupor. And Debbie, who's engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and manically determined to pull off the perfect wedding at any cost.

Soon Doug's entire nuclear family is in his face. And when he starts dipping his toes into the shark-infested waters of the second-time around dating scene, it isn't long before his new life is spinning hopelessly out of control, cutting a harrowing and often hilarious swath of sexual missteps and escalating chaos across the suburban landscape.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:10 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Twenty-nine-year-old widower Doug Parker finds his life spiraling out of control as he struggles to come to terms with grief, love, family, and suburbia while dealing with a bossy, pregnant twin sister who urges him to begin dating again, a younger sister planning her wedding, a mother dealing with her ailing husband, and a hostile teenage stepson.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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