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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Tale Worth Reading

The Widower’s Tale
Julia Glass
Pantheon, 2010

In a quirky historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling enjoys a vigorous but solitary life. In order to help his oldest daughter obtain a job, he allows a progressive preschool to remodel and move into his barn. Although he resents the noise and confusion the school brings, he soon realizes that the children and young people have forced him to reconnect with the world. His recent retirement had caused him to become a sort of recluse in the large lonely house. With the constant commotion of people coming and going, Percy comes to regret some of the choices he’s made since his wife’s death three decades ago. He finds that he can no longer remain aloof from his neighbors, his two grown daughters, or, to his own surprise, the joy of falling in love. Meanwhile, Percy's beloved grandson Robert, a premed student at Harvard, has become involved in a subversive green organization that commits destructive “pranks” around prosperous neighborhoods targeting wasteful lifestyles. Though Robert is enlisted as a helper in what sounds like harmless actions, they escalate into harmful and scary attacks, with dire consequences for Robert's family and the people around them.

At first impression, this book is about an older gentleman undergoing a change of life event. Percy is a grumpy yet energetic former librarian, who just wanted to retire in order to read books and think about important things. That events forced him to be more outgoing and personable makes him even grouchier, but it also causes him to feel needed and relevant again. When he falls in love with Sarah, a woman a bit younger, he comes alive again in a way he hadn’t felt since his wife died. Yet, Percy is used to being in charge, the boss, and he doesn’t react very well when things don’t go according to his plan.

I enjoyed witnessing the journey that Percy takes in order to become a more complete human being. I could identify with his newfound feelings of being alive, of intense emotional ups and downs, of connecting once again with the world around him. My only complaint was the alternating chapters with other characters’ voices that added too many subplots and confusion to the main storyline. But in the end, everything tied together nicely, albeit somewhat unhappily, and Percy once again is the main character in a very satisfying novel.


Other titles by this author:
Three Junes (2002)
The Whole World Over (2006)
I See You Everywhere (2008)

Other titles you may enjoy:
Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood (1976)
Joan Foster is the bored wife of a myopic ban-the-bomber. She takes off overnight as Canada's new super poet, pens lurid gothics on the sly, attracts a blackmailing reporter, skids cheerfully in and out of menacing plots, hair-raising traps, passionate trysts, and lands dead and well in Terremoto, Italy.

Roxanna Slade by Reynolds Price (1998)
Roxana Slade, born with the century, looks back from the near present over her long and (seemingly) uneventful life as a wife and mother in a small North Carolina town.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (1999)
In a novel set in post-apartheid South Africa, a fifty-two-year-old college professor who has lost his job for sleeping with a student tries to relate to his daughter, Lucy, who works with an ambitious African farmer.

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