I’m a fan of Joyce Carol Oates’s novels and I was somewhat disappointed in her memoir, A Widow’s Story, which recalls her first year of widowhood after her beloved husband died. The first third is brilliant and harsh, as she recalls the bizarre experience of bringing her husband to the hospital with what appears to be a simple, uncomplicated pneumonia and being told days later that he is dying, and of her living those first few days in a daze, apparently functioning well enough to accomplish daily tasks but never quite comprehending what just happened. She also has hilarious descriptions of the mountains of generous but misguided gifts that come her way, for which she cannot muster the energy to clear out, let alone write thank you notes. And near the end there are too-short glimpses of her life as a young married woman that are tender, funny, and left me wanting more.
But I could not find much to like in the midsection of the book, in which she laments the perhaps well-intentioned but inappropriate comments people make to her — and at the same time deplores that other people did not say anything. Perhaps they were all too self-conscious of the great difficulty of striking the right note, especially writing to a most accomplished writer? One who can write an entire memoir in which she refers to herself as “she” — and makes it work!