Sunday, April 10, 2011

Widow's Story - sort of

I've read my first book on the new Kindle: Joyce Carol Oates' A Widow's Story. About half way through this memoir — the story of JCO losing her husband in 2008 — I got a little bored. I could understand the relief that she got out of writing about her grief, the minutiae of insomnia, thoughts of suicide, and her impatience with thoughtless condoleance gifts, but I couldn't quite see what I was supposed to gain from reading about it. Actually it wasn't half-way through, it was exactly 64% into the book, you can tell those things on a Kindle.

Taking a break from the book, I remembered having seen photographs of JCO and her husband in the New Yorker a while ago and Googled to find them. As I typed the query into the box, Google auto-complete came up with "Joyce Carol Oates remarriage". Surely not?

But yes, here I was reading about and sympathising with the detail of the writer's apparently insurmountable grief at the loss of her partner of forty-five years, when in fact she was engaged to another man just eleven months after husband's death, and remarried shortly after that. She had moved on long before the book came out yet invited me to wallow in her unhappiness a little longer.

It seems to me that there is something profoundly dishonest about that; a betrayal almost. I ploughed (okay, clicked) my way through the rest of the book in a decidedly more critical sprit. The photographs had shown an emaciated cross between Sissy Spacek and Tim Burton's Alice, a face it was more difficult to warm to than facelessness. I grew impatient with her toying with the non-starter idea of suicide, and entertained a growing suspicion that this book was no more than a working up of the notes this prolific author had taken in the immediate aftermath of her husband's death along with some name-dropping e-mail exchanges.

Finally, but perhaps this is an American thing, it seems to me that it's a terrible mistake not to attend one's own husband's cremation.

If this was a real paper book, I would have listed it on BookMooch by now. But what do you do with an e-book you don't want?


materfamilias said...

for whatever reason, Oates has never clicked with me -- haven't even heard of this one. But have you read Joan Didion's powerful, sad, wonderful Year of Magical Thinking -- it's one you're more likely to try to get back from the friend you lent it to than to send out to BookMooch.

I'm taking my Kobo (Kindle-like) with me on the train to Metz tomorrow. Got to get myself used to it, since I've bought it!

Lesley said...

Materfamilias: I have read a few of her novels without ever really loving them. I don't think I could take Joan Didion's book right now, perhaps later, but it did come up as a suggestion on my Kindle. She and Oates are apparently friends.
Have fun in Metz!

Ms Mac said...

Very insightful. You're ever so clever, Lesley.

Lucy said...

What very poor taste!

I suppose you can just delete the book into the ether.

Vivi said...

I only have to confirm your suspicion that attending the cremation isn't done in the States, as we were told at what point we could come pick up my mother's remains. Typically there is a memorial or an internment after the fact.

For the rest, I'd be fairly disgusted as well, how tacky. You're very good to have finished the book, I would have chucked it! (Well, if it had been a real book!)

Lesley said...

@Vivi That's really interesting, I had no idea. In Britain, and indeed in France, the coffin descending into what is presumably the furnace, is part of the funeral ceremony. Seeing the coffin disappear is thought to provide a sense of closure, although often curtains are draws before the descent.