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  • Lynnda Wardle

A Widow's Story

Joyce Carol Oates - Short Review of 'A Widow's Story'

I have come to JCO lately, and this memoir is breathtaking in its ability to analyse in minute detail the emotional response to the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Ray Smith who was an academic and editor of the Ontario Review. JCO’s prose is tight, controlled and sharp even as she veers after his death from anxiety to fearfulness, panic and rage and then into mute depression. Something like 80 chapters I weathered – at times it seemed almost too much to bear, but her technical brilliance and absolute honesty provide a sturdy architecture for a fine piece of grief memoir.

I have not read Joan Didion’s memoir A Year of Magical Thinking yet, but I suspect when I do the two will refract off each other illuminating the different approaches to writing about personal tragedy. (JCO had read Didion’s memoir while she was writing this one). The Widows Tale only covers a short space of time, around 6 months, and it is an indication of technical skill that she can sustain this level of intensity across such short periods of time. I will never approach someone who has lost a loved one in the same way again; in addition to its literary value, this book could be a handbook on how to be around those who are grieving.

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