A Widow's Story: A Memoir

A Widow's Story: A Memoir

by Joyce Carol Oates


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Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before, A Widow’s Story is the universally acclaimed author’s poignant, intimate memoir about the unexpected death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-six years, and its wrenching, surprising aftermath. A recent recipient of National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates, whose novels (Blonde, The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Little Bird of Heaven, etc.) rank among the very finest in contemporary American fiction, offers an achingly personal story of love and loss. A Widow’s Story is a literary memoir on a par with The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062020505
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/07/2012
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 217,764
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

June 16, 1938

Place of Birth:

Lockport, New York


B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Read an Excerpt

A Widow's Story

A Memoir
By Joyce Carol Oates


Copyright © 2011 Joyce Carol Oates
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-201553-2

Chapter One

The Message

February 15, 2008. Returning to our car that has been haphazardly
parked—by me—on a narrow side street near the Princeton Medical
Center—I see, thrust beneath a windshield wiper, what appears to be
a sheet of stiff paper. At once my heart clenches in dismay, guilty ap-
prehension—a ticket? A parking ticket? At such a time? Earlier that
afternoon I'd parked here on my way—hurried, harried—a jangle of
admonitions running through my head like shrieking cicadas—if you'd
happened to see me you might have thought pityingly That woman is in
a desperate hurry—as if that will do any good—to visit my husband in the
Telemetry Unit of the medical center where he'd been admitted several
days previously for pneumonia; now I need to return home for a few
hours preparatory to returning to the medical center in the early eve-
ning—anxious, dry-mouthed and head-aching yet in an aroused state
that might be called hopeful—for since his admission into the medical
center Ray has been steadily improving, he has looked and felt better,
and his oxygen intake, measured by numerals that fluctuate with liter-
ally each breath—90, 87, 91, 85, 89, 92—is steadily gaining, arrangements
are being made for his discharge into a rehab clinic close by the medical
center—(hopeful is our solace in the face of mortality); and now, in the
late afternoon of another of these interminable and exhausting hospital-
days—can it be that our car has been ticketed?—in my distraction I'd
parked illegally?—the time limit for parking on this street is only two
hours, I've been in the medical center for longer than two hours, and
see with embarrassment that our 2007 Honda Accord—eerily glaring-
white in February dusk like some strange phosphorescent creature in the
depths of the sea—is inexpertly, still more inelegantly parked, at a slant
to the curb, left rear tire over the white line in the street by several inches,
front bumper nearly touching the SUV in the space ahead. But now—if
this is a parking ticket—at once the thought comes to me I won't tell Ray,
I will pay the fine in secret.

Except the sheet of paper isn't a ticket from the Princeton Police De-
partment after all but a piece of ordinary paper—opened and smoothed
out by my shaky hand it's revealed as a private message in aggressively
large block-printed letters which with stunned staring eyes I read several
times like one faltering on the brink of an abyss—learn to park stuppid bitch.

In this way as in that parable of Franz Kafka in which the most profound
and devastating truth of the individual's life is revealed to him by a passer-by
in the street, as if accidentally, casually, so the Widow-to-Be, like the Widow,
is made to realize that her situation however unhappy, despairing or fraught
with anxiety, doesn't give her the right to overstep the boundaries of others,
especially strangers who know nothing of her—"Left rear tire over the white
line in the street."


Excerpted from A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates Copyright © 2011 by Joyce Carol Oates. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Widow's Story: A Memoir 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 89 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In February 2008, Ontario review Editor Raymond Smith was not feeling well so his wife of almost five decades noted author Joyce Carol Oates drove him to the Princeton Medical Center. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted as a patient. Both he and his spouse expected him to come home in a few days. Instead he developed an infection and died one week later. This memoir is about Ms. Oates' efforts to move on from the unexpected death of a loved one. Everything reminded her how alone she had become and how much she missed her beloved partner. Ms. Oates confesses she initially expected Raymond to appear any moment to help her with the physical and monetary impacts of his death. However, as she wept agonizingly slowly through the passes of grieving, she realized it is the little things in life that enabled Joyce Smith to survive the biggest tragedy she ever faced. This is an insightful first-hand look at grieving as Ms. Oates confirms grief is personally customized to the loving survivor. Harriet Klausner
A_reader_in_Juneau_AKEP More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it is those who have recently lost a loved one who would be attracted to this memoir. This appears to be the case from the other reviews that appear on this page. This may be because of an earnestness, a desperation, that pervades the thoughts of the bereaved. I have recently experienced a death in my family. I disclose this only for context and I will say no more about it, except to say that when I read about Ms. Oates' memoir in the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker I was immediately drawn to it. Her book does a good job of describing the personal and spiritual disintegration that occurs following a death. Two things undermine the power of this book. The first is the author's unabashed self involvement. She often refers to herself in the third person as "the widow." I cannot think of any third person self reference as not being pretentious unless it is self deprecating. If you lose someone you love dearly, your are disarmed and wounded by this death, and all roads lead to the one you have lost. Ms. Oates makes it clear that she was plenty wounded by the death of her husband, yet all roads lead to her. She soon ceases to be the victim of her bereavement and instead uses it to interpret how she perceives her life and the actions of those around her. Where for some, bereavement allows them to explore avenues of compassion toward others, especially those clumsy in conveying their sympathy, not so for Ms. Oates. She points out that practically everything and everybody is insensitive to what she is going through and woe unto those who would tread upon her anger and loss. The second is that the author is Joyce Carol Oates, a literary powerhouse who does not experience ordinary life the way the rest of us do. If she writes about a letter or a conversation with a friend or colleague, it is Edmund Wilson, John Updike, or Phillip Roth. In this way the book becomes an inroad to the literary life populated by those with the calling and considerable talent to be writers. I admit this enthralled me, but it removed her experience from my own. Yet this memoir bears its gifts for the bereaved. When the author is going through a bag of cards and letters she received after her husband's death, finally able to do so, she uncovers a gem: "You will be grief stricken for the rest of your life, but don't lose your vitality." And this, quoted in the New York Review of Books' article: "We who are living - we who have survived - understand that our guilt is what links us to the dead. At times we can hear them calling to us, a growing incredulity in their voices You will not forget me - with you? How can you forget me? I have no one but you."
Michmsnrn More than 1 year ago
This memoir was helpful to me in many ways after I have been through the loss of too many loved ones in the past 5 years. She shows wonderful depth, and insight into the world of those who have lost and are coping and attempting to integrate those losses into their lives as they move forward. That being said-this book also seems to be an outlet for several petty slights, differences with those who do not matter to the author and to those who are unable or unfortunate enough to have gotten on Mrs. Smiths (Oates) bad side (administration at the university) or unlucky enough to have sent her a condolence card. Her manners for those who attempt in their own foundling way to convey their condolence-is not forgivable. There are times where she seem to take particular joy in cutting them down via her reader. This is unprofessional and unfair. I know first hand family members who have behaved with more bravery and decency than this author when faced with 3x the tragedy. I am not going to be looking for more of her novels anytime soon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first few hundred pages were engaging...the rest took me weeks to slog through only necause i dojnt giveup on a book easily..i love this woman and what she has experienced but it became a ramble
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Joyce Carol Oates' angst is so keenly expressed that the reader becomes part of her story. It is impossible not to feel her pain, her fright at being left alone, and her second guessing about what she could have done to prevent this death. I suggested that a friend of mine who was newly widowed read this book. She was expressing the same kind of feelings about the fears of being alone, the thought that maybe there was something she missed that could have prolonged her husband's life. My friend felt somewhat relieved to have her feelings expressed by a writer we have been reading for several years. This is a book that engages women of any age.
Rebecca Bell More than 1 year ago
Joyce carol oates has written a very descriptive portral of what it feels to be a widow i lost my husband suddenly to pneumonia also. If you want to get a clear understanding of what a widow goes through when she loses her husband and the life she knew, read this book. It helped me to realize that i am not going crazy.
Kaxa More than 1 year ago
I was looking for support when I bought this book having had several deaths in the family in a short time span.  The first chapters are fine  but the material becomes very self-centered and repetitive.  I did finish the book albeit grudgingly! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just could not finish this book. I lost interest  reading all the e-mails (too personal) and the poetry readings. Redundant in her use of the word "widow" pushed me over the edge. Sorry
Lojie More than 1 year ago
I have always loved her books. She expressed what I think I would be feeling had my husband died unexpectedly. Painful but worth the time.
KHFWomanInHiding More than 1 year ago
Any time a woman writer dares to reveal the truth behind the mask, especially when it is "unseemly," she is reaching out her hand in compassion to every woman. In "A Widow's Story" Joyce Carol Oates unmasks herself, sometimes brutally, and through her courage we, the readers, are given an opportunity to see and honor the fralities of our own humanity and that of others in the face tragedy. I am truly sorry that Ms. Oates had to experience such a devastating loss, and yet so grateful that she transformed her anguish into a gift to others.
Steve Laman More than 1 year ago
very heartfelt and enlightening. one i will come back to again and again.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A WIDOW'S STORY, Joyce Carol Oates's memoir of the year following the sudden unexpected death of her husband of 48 years was a simply wrenching read. She holds nothing back in her interior monologues showing her inconsolable grief, loneliness and suicidal thoughts. That part of her narrative is indeed very hard to read, as it makes one wonder if most, if not all widows, go through such agony.But Oates is a writer, and this book is obviously one of the ways she worked her way through what has been one of the most awful times of her life. I was reminded of another such book I read a few years back, Anne Roiphe's EPILOGUE. And Oates herself mentions the bestselling memoir written by Joan Didion, following the loss of that writer's husband. Perhaps it is not surprising that the parts I found most interesting in Oates's story are the memories she shares of her long marriage, particularly those from the early days of their marriage, when the world was filled with so many possibilities. Since then Oates has become nationally famous as an author, of course, with over 60 books published. She is even aware that her obsessively prodigious writing output has made her something of a joke in some writing circles, albeit, I think, a very gentle sort of joke, since writers in general are simply in awe of the sheer volume of her work. The truth is, although I've been very aware of Oates's work for forty years, I've only really read one of her books - a short one called BLONDE. I've started reading a few others, but never managed to finish any of them, beginning with THEM, back in the 70s. Her fiction is generally simply too 'dense' for my taste.The memoir is a well-blended pastiche of journal entries, emails and frankly-voiced fears that must face all long-married people who are suddenly alone, for whatever reason. I was moved deeply by the distress evidenced so eloquently by Oates. I will admit that I was initially a bit intimidated by the sheer length of the book (over 400 pages), but found it to be a surprisingly quick read, owing I have to assume to Oates's skill as a writer. (Even so, it probably could have been pared down a bit; could have benefited from an astute and sympathetic editor.) It's not an easy book to read. It's a hard subject. But it is a beautifully written account of the long and painful trajectory of grief.
bakersfieldbarbara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have started many books by Oates and never finished any of them, as it was not my type of reading for enjoyment. But as a journalism student, I was assigned her articles in PLAYBOY as a class project, and thought I'd try again, only this time from her very personal view of widowhood. I have a friend who is newly widowed, and one who is looking at it soon, so I wondered if this book would be of any help to them. After reading a similar book on widowhood and so disappointed, I was hoping for a great read. Alas, this book is not one I would suggest to anyone suffering from a loss and seeking comfort. Yes, Ms. Oates is able to, with her writing skills, to describe her emotional pain at the unexpected death of her husband, but the style is more from a narcissistic view of the tragedy. I was appalled when she negatively described the sympathy gifts from her friends, throwing them out unopened .. could they not have been donated somewhere? Her resentment at everything done by anyone, including the hospital treatment of her husband, is too much for this reader to handle. My mind was questioning why losing a husband to death was any more traumatic than losing one to another woman, and when she encountered such a lady friend whom was taking her out for a meal, she berated the woman. Oates loss was much more magnificent, in her eyes, and yet when this woman expressed how she was left with no financial means, Oates went on later to resent having to handle all of the finances, something her husband did. She calls betrayal much more healthier. Presuming her pain is greater just because she had been widowed, not divorced. Excuse me, Ms. Oates, but loss is loss. My choice would be to be left with money, not penniless, or at least to have a female friend who would not insult my situation in comparison to hers.. Parts of her memoir were repetitious and other parts were so detailed that I turned the pages quickly. The style of writing, as if thinking by using exclamation points, italics and dashes, was cumbersome, but the worst part for my eyes was the extreme self-pity, condescension and arrogance. Sharing the emails to her friends only emphasized how she focused on herself, normal enough in such a loss, but her using the 3rd person and calling herself "The Widow" seemed a bit dramatic. The final straw was, that even though she went over and over again the many years of their marriage and even their courtship, and some other personal stuff that was filler, she suffered only long enough to get engages eleven months later, and married shortly thereafter. I have sat with friends and relatives who lost loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly,and it is always an emotional time for all. Death is a loss and must be dealt with, hopefully with friends surrounding a person. Oates shut out her friends emotionally in her depression, but her criticism of them and their efforts was a low point in the book. 400 pages of about 6 months of detailed mourning, and then on to another man. Good reading for those who want to see how not to behave when in mourning. Drop the resentment,Ms. Oates. None of us know how to react in such situations. We have your memoir to see that you most certainly did not know to be kind to those who were just as shocked as you at your husband's sudden death.
ldarrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't read much by Joyce Carol Oates considering how much she has written. I read one or two of her novels when I was much younger and I'm a big fan of her short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" I have been feeling disappointed by memoir as a genre lately, but the Times Book Review spoke very highly of Oates' new contribution, so I requested a galley.The book begins on a normal day with Oates just returning from a speaking engagement. When she arrives, she finds that her husband has gotten ill while she was away. It is incredibly pedestrian, and yet from the first pages her story compelled me. Husband and wife fuss and decide that they won't wait to see their general practitioner, deciding instead to go to the emergency room, where Ray (Oates' husband of almost 50 years), is admitted with pneumonia. Considering the title of the book, it is no spoiler to say that, only a few days later, Ray passes away. And yet, reading those heart-wrenching chapters, I felt like I was reading a brilliantly crafted work of fiction. I could turn the pages fast enough on my I-pad; I was rooting for Ray despite knowing the outcome. The suddenness of his passing was distressing and the portrayal of Oates throughout rang to me as heart-breakingly accurate.After Ray's death, Oates explores what it means to be a widow and how she coped-with the help of friends and work and medications- in the months following her loss. There are sad moments and funny moments, and the reader feels the surreality of the writer's current state. Throughout the book, however, she writes with clarity and a competency that reminds us that she is a professional story teller. She explores the form of the memoir, eventually coming to the realization that "all memoirs are journeys. investigations. Some memoirs are pilgrimages." She sees her journey as the latter. I felt like I was on the journey with her, and it seemed to be a journey in many senses. Not only did Oates embark on the obvious journey of coming to terms with the death of her partner of many decades, it also seems to be a journey in which she merges her identity as Joyce Smith with her writer's persona-Joyce Carol Oates, or as she refers to her- JCO. She claims midway through the book that she has "walled [her]self off from 'Joyce Carol Oates,'" and has also created "walls" between herself and Ray by keeping their professional identities separate from their identity as a married couple. Through the book, she gets to know Ray better in crucial ways, and that is part of the journey as well.What I liked best about the book was its readability. Like I mentioned earlier, the reader knows that she is in the hands of a professional. I also found the book honest - at times beautiful and at others baffling. The author doesn't hide the moments in her relationship that some of us might find a bit strange (What? They didn't read each others' writing?). Overall, this might be one of the best memoirs I've read, and it makes me more than likely to pick up some more of Oates' fiction in the future.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are a widow or someone else who has suffered a loss and are seeking comfort, run, run as fast as you can, away from this book. There is little, if any, comfort to be found here.Joyce Smith, known to most of us as Joyce Carol Oates, had been married to her husband for 47 years when he died after a short illness. She was, of course, devastated, and I truly am sorry for her sorrow. Still, I really didn't like this book.Initially, I was annoyed by all the unnecessary exclamation points and italics, but those are minor annoyances, ones I can easily overlook. What bothered me more was the combination of extreme self-pity, condescension, and arrogance.She includes italicized third-person guidelines as The Widow, almost a primer of widowhood. I think that her experiences are not every widow's experiences, and it is presumptuous to write as if they are; it is disconcerting to read.There is much too much detail. I really am not interested in every sleeping pill she took, every email she sent or received, every thought of suicide, the extreme minutiae of her life. She was battling depression, certainly understandable, but did she have to work so hard at dragging me into her depression?Concerned friends gave her endless support, but others sent her baskets of fruit, flowers and plants, things to express their sympathy, and she resented these as she dragged them to the garbage unopened. She resented well-meaning acquaintances who tried to express condolences when she didn't want to hear them. She resented people who didn't know the right thing to say so said the wrong thing, even though it seems very likely that she did the same thing before she became a widow.When meeting with friends who were divorced, who had been betrayed by their husbands, she writes: Where there is betrayal, there can be anger, rage. I am thinking with envy how much healthier, how much more exhilarating, such emotions would be, than the heavyheartedness of grief like a sodden overcoat the widow must wear.Excuse me? She presumes to feel that her pain is greater, and that there would be exhilaration if she had been betrayed rather than widowed?Not one person in this room would want to trade places with you: widow.And...Trying to cheer yourself up when the only significant fact of your life is, you are alone. You are a widow and you are alone....You are a failure, you are an unloved woman no longer young, you are worthless, you are trash. And you are ridiculous....At one point, JCO is thinking of having a T-shirt imprinted with:YES MY HUSBAND DIED,YES I AM VERY SAD,YES YOU ARE KIND TO OFFER CONDOLENCES,NOW CAN WE CHANGE THE SUBJECT?I wanted the subject changed long before the book ended. The book was not badly written but did not appeal to me; perhaps it will to other readers. Because of that and because I admire some of JCO's writing, I am giving it one star more than I would have otherwise.I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher, and the quotes may have changed in the published edition.
shellyquade on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The memoir details what the author went through and experienced just before, during and after her husband died.To begin with, it's clear that Oates is a literary person, both due to the way that she writes, as well as the references that she makes.However, there was too much use of stream-of-consciousness for me to particularly enjoy reading the book. I can understand why Oates uses it so consistently in her memoir. Suddenly, her brain is moving a mile a minute, repetitively - she's not thinking in complete sentences. Often, her brain may not even be coherently registering a complete thought, let alone think in complete sentences. It's all fragments and confusion - and stream-of-consciousness perfectly portrays that.Just as it is difficult to live in a state where you're constantly overwhelmed with thoughts that are vague, unclear, and half-stated, however, it is also difficult for me to READ something that is written in such a manner, if it occurs for more than a few paragraphs. Oates used it a lot in the galley which I received, and after a few chapters utilizing it, my attention span began to wane. Dramatically.The memoir also necessarily repeats - usually stated in slightly different ways, after awhile, it was glaringly obvious that Oates was repeating the same material. This means, of course, that she was also GOING THROUGH the same things numerous times - which is a true-to-life sentiment. It also means, however, that much of the memoir, if you're not interested in reading repetition, feels unnecessary.The concept of the memoir is interesting, and I feel that if you like non-fiction, this book is probably something that you should check out. If you're generally a strict fiction fan, however, avoid this book, as it will probably not hold your interest for very long.
jovilla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The famed author Joyce Carol Oates drove her husband to the emergency room with a bad cold/ pneumonia; he seemed to be improving during his few days in the hospital until she received a call in the middle of the night. She rushed to the hospital and found that he had died. This book details her experience of losing her beloved husband after a very long marriage, her shock at the quickness and finality of the death, her resulting insomnia and depression, her inability to connect with friends and the world for several months thereafter. This is a very sad book but very engrossing. I recommend it but it isn't light reading. There is just a hint at the very end of possibilities to come, and in fact Ms. Oates within the year was engaged to be married to another Princeton professor. I hope she writes a sequel to this book so we can know exactly how this came to be!
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Actress Lauren Bacall on being commiserated on the death of her husband Humphrey Bogart is quoted as saying, ¿All love stories end as tragedies.¿And surely most of those who love deeply wonder how they will cope when that tragedy occurs.Prestigious author Joyce Carol Oates, whose trenchant novels are known for their insight into the human condition, had a long and close relationship with her husband, Ray Smith. And as all such stories must, it ended with a death.Ray Smith¿s quiet, unexpected death changed Oates life forever. `A Widow¿s Story¿ details that death and the painful changes that followed. Oates is honest in her grief, anger, and hurt as she explains the day by day survival skills that she is forced to acquire. When one has lost a part of herself that can never be replaced how does one rebuild a life? And why would she even try? `A Widow¿s Story¿ isn¿t a feel good, self-help guide. It¿s an intimate, honest portrait of the suffering and grief that are a natural result of great love and great loss. It wasn¿t an easy book to write and it isn¿t easy to read. Oates¿ grief is brutal; it isn¿t sanitized; her loss hurts. But as she fights to face each new day, the reader is granted insight into the courage and resilience of the human spirit.
Chatterbox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tend to not enjoy reading memoirs, which Joyce Carol Oates describes in this poignant book as at once the most seductive and dangerous of genres. At their worst, they come across as whiny (look at poor me and the vicissitudes I've overcome...) and at best, self-congratulatory. But then every so often one comes along, like Ann Patchett's memoir of a friendship in "Truth and Beauty", and this book by Oates about surviving the death of her husband.At some point, most of us will survive the loss of a loved one -- a parent, a child, a spouse. It's almost banal. And yet out of this experience, Oates has crafted a book that is unsparing of herself and yet a tribute to the value of loving and being loved. The death of her husband, Ray Smith, literally unmoors her, and she drifts far away from her former life, uncertain of whether she wants to return to it or if she ever can. Thoughts of suicide tempt her -- a basilisk figure lurking in the edge of her vision eggs her on, repeatedly, reminding her that she is a valueless person on her own -- even as she battles through the practicalities (disposing of the endless Harry & David "sympathy baskets", coping with distraught cats, reading a stream of sympathy letters.What struck me as most authentic and valid in this memoir is something that we should all try to remember (including the reviewer who described the author as arrogant and self-pitying): we cannot ever see inside of another's soul to fully understand the torment they are going through. If we are honest, we don't want to. What Oates has done in this memoir is to force us to confront the magnitude of the pain that the death of a spouse of 47 years brings in its wake; a pain that can be amplified rather than muted by the well-meaning gestures and platitudes of others. For whom do we exist? That's a question that Oates tackles indirectly and her verdict is mixed. Despite pondering suicide (periodically, throughout this memoir, she pauses to contemplate just how many pills she has available, and rejoices when she can obtain more) Oates opts for survival, of some kind. But it's as much despite the care and attention of her friends (appreciated, yet never a panacea as no panacea exists) as because of it. This book is more an act of catharsis than it is one that is intended to be helpful to others in similar situations. But it's also the most honest I've ever read about the way death of a loved one pushes one into oneself, into a state of mind and being that others too often dismiss as "selfish" or self-absorbed. I didn't find this book depressing, for it is as at least as much about the tremendous power and endurance of love as it as about the sorrows and traumas associated with its loss. As we age, we realize how inextricably the two are linked, and Oates is to be praised for not letting us get away with thinking that we will find the process inspirational or ultimately of value. It's not an easy book to read, but it's powerful, and it goes on to my list of the best books of the year that I've read so far. I wouldn't recommend that anyone who has recently lost a loved one read it -- it may rub salt in the wound, may irritate or anger someone who feels and reacts to that loss in a different manner -- but anyone over the age of 40 should read it, as well as anyone who wants to be reassured that a memoir isn't just a "look how great I am" book in disguise. I've rated it 5 stars.Full disclosure: I obtained a copy of the book from the publishers via NetGalley.com
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One year and six weeks before her husband¿s death, Joyce and Raymond were lucky to walk away from an automobile accident that could just as easily have killed both of them. Joyce Carol Oates and her husband, publisher and editor Raymond Smith, would look upon each day after that accident as a gift, bonus time granted them on their time together. That would all change on February 18, 2008, when Oates would so suddenly be thrust into widowhood that she would be left reeling from the shock for months to come.Joyce and Raymond Smith had been married for forty-seven years, and they expected to be together for a good many more, on the morning Joyce awoke to find her husband feeling poorly. Because she could see that his illness was more severe than he believed it to be, Oates convinced Smith to let her drive him to Princeton Medical Center. There he was admitted with pneumonia, but the couple expected that he would be treated and released in only a few days. Up until the early hours of February 18, when Oates received an urgent phone call from the hospital, that seemed to be exactly what would happen.Technically, Raymond Smith did not die of pneumonia or its complications. He died, instead, from a secondary infection he picked up inside Princeton Medical Center, and his was a death for which Oates was completely unprepared. One minute she was feeling optimistic about her husband¿s homecoming; the next, she found herself trying to make it back to the hospital before he died.Suddenly, her life seemed to lose all meaning. Gone was the man around whom she centered her world and, staggered by her grief, Oates lost all desire to go on alone. She could not sleep, had no desire to eat, and felt even her spirit fading away as the thought of suicide more and more appealed to her. What kept Oates going in those early months was her ability to lose herself in her ¿JCO¿ personae; she became a Joyce Carol Oates impersonator, an author with commitments that allowed her to travel from reading-to-reading across the country. She did not have to be Joyce Smith, widow, until she returned to her lonely New Jersey home.A Widow¿s Story will remind many readers of Joan Didion¿s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), in which Didion explored her own reaction to sudden widowhood. Like that memoir, A Widow¿s Story can, at times, be disturbing in its frankness about the effects of the despair and grief that follow the loss of a longtime spouse and companion. Most disturbing to me, personally, was the realization that even someone like Oates, with her vast network of friends, colleagues and well-wishers, essentially had to weather the storm on her own. Good intentions and simple kindnesses did little to relieve her of the pain that crushed both her spirit and her will to live. Oates is a survivor now, as is Didion. What she tells us about her experience is not pretty, and it is not particularly inspirational. But it is real, and that, after all, is what Joyce Carol Oates is all about. This woman pulls no punches in her fiction, and she pulls no punches here.Rated at: 4.0
jewelknits on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ms. Oates is a tremendously gifted writer, and in this book she takes us through the pain and confusion of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband of 47 years. In a visit to the hospital, Ray is found to have pneumonia. A couple of days before he was to be released, Ms. Oates receives a call in the middle of the night - please come, he is still alive. By the time she reaches the hospital, he is no longer alive, and thus begins her journey into the numbness and bewildering sadness that comprises a deep grief. As we journey with the author through her memories and through the aftermath of losing her life partner of almost 50 years, those of us familiar with grief may recognize the numbness and disorientation of loss so aptly chronicled in this memoir. Those who haven't gone through a sudden loss would do well to read this account, as it may help give a deeper understanding of the wandering, disconnected thoughts which accompany the effort to cope with loss. Of particular interest to me was her description of suicidal thoughts - not that she wanted to commit suicide, but that the idea that it was available as an option helped power her through the times when she falls into "sinkholes" of memory and loss.There are transcripts of some of the mails she received included in various places throughout the novel, and I feel that she is indeed a fortunate woman to have such supportive friends and acquaintances. From the note that says so truthfully, "...you are going to be so unhappy" to the note that states, "one breath at a time", it is obvious that these friends know the true depth that a loss like this entails - that it won't "get better" for a long time, and that even when the numbness eases, it will never be the same.If you've ever gone through your own loss, these words will comfort you as you realize that you are not and were not alone in your inability to inwardly cope. I thank the author for sharing her experience with us; it had to be extremely difficult to put these feelings into words that could so accurately convey it.QUOTES....sometimes, I call our home number from my cell phone, to hear Ray's recorded voice that is so comforting, and which, when they call this number, our friends will hear for a very long time.It is strange to be so assailed by rushing thoughts when I am moving so slowly - speaking so slowly - like one who has been slammed over the head with a sledgehammer.For this is the great discovery of my posthumous life - I am not strong enough to continue a life to no purpose except getting through the day followed by getting through the night. I am not strong enough to believe that so minimal a life is worth the effort to protract it.BOOK RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Donura1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
3 out of 5 starsI immediately requested the ARC of Joyce Carol Oates' A Widow's Story: A Memoir when it was first offered. I had had such strong reactions to Joan Didion's memoir, A Year of Magical Thinking, which I read shortly after the death of my son. I thought maybe my reaction would be different since 5 years have passed. Not so. Although the two authors' styles are miles apart, the raw pain and emotion are the same. Joyce Carol Oates is a well known, "instant recognition" name in writing but her private life for the past 48 years was that of Joyce Smith, wife of Raymond Smith, a well known editor. That private life collapsed, disappeared, and became a kind of nightmare when Raymond suddenly died. Like death of any kind, we never prepare for it. It doesn't matter if the loved one is older or young. We simply stay in denial about the mortality that we all have. How we deal with the loss is another matter. I am jealous of these writers that they are able to express and put to paper the madness, angry, rage, and all the other emotions that cannot be suppressed. All of us who have suffered such a loss feel and experience this wide range of emotions but we are unable to verbalize or explain them to our friends and family. Some of us are lucky enough to maybe have a close friend or a therapist that has also had such a loss and can identify with the feelings that are surging through us and help us survive those waves, but many are left to flounder on their own. You hear about the families and friendships that break apart after such a loss, and you can clearly see why when you read of the near insanity that Ms. Oates is able to reveal in her grieving testament. I really struggled through parts of this book. I wanted to shout to her to get help from her close friends. I felt her anger at the medical community prevented her from getting the help she might have benefited from if she had sought grief therapy. And ultimately I realized that each of us must bear these feelings and sense of loss on our own terms.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A stunning tell-all from a very private person.  In this brutally honest memoir of grief, Joyce Carol Oates the author gives us the reactions and emotions of the months of anguish endured by Joyce Smith the wife of Raymond Smith, a renowned editor when he unexpectedly died of complications of pneumonia after a short stay in Princeton hospital in February 2008.Stunned into almost complete catatonia, she is unable to function as Joyce Smith. She cannot believe Ray has left her. She neglects her person, her house, her mail, her expected duties, and often almost forgets the cats. She becomes particularly distraught at the continual appearance of the "Harry and David condolence baskets" which she does not want, and has no idea how to dispose of. Nights, which are the hardest for her to endure, bring thoughts of suicide, but her mind is too numbed even to bring her to action to complete the act. She gathers all the medications previously dispensed to her husband and herself, counting up and listing different anti-depressants, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers, antihistamines, and other pain killers, trying to decide if she has enough to accomplish the task of putting herself out of her misery. Daytimes bring a trance like state that can still find fault and hurt in every well-meaninged remark by friends and strangers alike. She is unable to accept that people want to help. By day Joyce Carol Oates continues teaching at Princeton, refusing to believe that Ray is gone. By night, returning to an empty house, Joyce Smith cannot function, unable to open condolence notes, email, or answer the phone. Friends gently guide her through the funeral process. Gradually, she allows herself to consider continuing with life. By April, when Ray's garden begins to sprout with the bulbs he had planted the previous fall, she experiences the stirring of life, and to the accompaniment of her memories, begins to mend.The writing in this work is exquisite. The reader feels the pain, the desolation and the total emptiness Oates experienced during this traumatic period.  By speaking in the first person, she allows us to enter her isolation so we can experience the enervating emptiness she feels. She is constantly working at simply getting through each day, each chore, each next step. She intersperses her recollections with copies of notes, emails, and letters from and to  friends and acquaintances. Periodically she will shift to a recap in the third person, almost as if she wants to look over the widow's shoulder to produce a how-to (or how not to?) guide for widows. At one point, (pgs 40-41) she gives us a sentence almost two pages long....very similar to a Saramago train of thought. It was enormously effective to show us the complete disintegration of her thought processes as she tries and fails to come to terms with her husband's death.As she works her way through the grieving process she is able to look outside herself :"For the widow is a posthumous person passing among the living.  When the widow smiles, when the widow laughs, you see the glisten in the widow's eyes, utter madness, an actress desperate to play her role as others would wish her to play her role and only another widow, another woman who has recently lost her husband, can perceive the fraud." (pg. 332). I've been reading a lot of memoirs in the past two years.  This is not an uplifting book in the style of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, or Kate Braestrup's Here if You Need Me, but it is an affirming book, one that assures us that life can go on :"Of the widow's countless death-duties there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband's death the widow should think I kept myself alive." (pg. 416.)
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this haunting and lyrical memoir by Joyce Carol Oates, a wife speaks candidly about her husband¿s untimely death and the repercussions it has on her life after the unthinkable happens. When Joyce¿s husband Ray is up earlier than usual one morning, she immediately notices that something is just not right. Ray looks pale and clammy, and is sitting amid a tower of crumpled tissues, and when Joyce suggests that he may need to go to the emergency room, the two think this trip will be just an annoyance and interruption. But it turns out that Ray has pneumonia, and though at first he improves, a secondary infection suddenly takes his life. Joyce isn¿t able to see Ray before he dies, and it¿s only one of the things she begins to obsesses about after Ray¿s tragic death. Now Joyce is alone and becoming unhinged. Though she immediately begins thinking about suicide, she decides against it and begins her painful days as a widow in a world that feels alien and hostile to her. As she begins to live a life without Ray, her most steadfast and loyal companion, Joyce becomes troubled by insomnia, anger and depression, and repeatedly considers suicide as the answer to the pain she feels. Her only redemption is through her steadfast friends and the writing classes she teaches, but in times of immense stress, even this seems like it¿s not enough. In this memoir filled with remembrances, email correspondence and personal asides, we see Joyce Carol Oates as never before, and are on the sidelines as she reveals the shocking destruction left behind when her life mate tragically passes away.Not having read any of Oates¿ previous work, I wondered if I would be able to connect with the story the author tells. Not knowing much about Oates seemed like it would be a hindrance in this case, but ultimately, this book tells the story of what could happen to any one of us. With Oates¿ ability to capture the hidden sides of her life along with the more personal topics, I was able to make a connection with her that made this book come alive in my hands. Oates captures all the rage, frustration and pain that losing Ray has caused her with a fluidity and emotional resonance that surprised me and wrung my heart in the most tender way possible.Joyce and Ray had somewhat of a restrained relationship which I initially found odd. This could have been because Ray was somewhat older than Joyce and had grown up in a different era. They didn¿t have conversations about painful or uncomfortable topics, and Ray was sometimes emotionally distant when it came to his previous life. They didn¿t share their writing with one another and they never had children. I think Joyce looked at Ray as sort of a father figure, and what she got out of her marriage was stability, affection and comfort. This is very different from my marriage and most marriages I know, for it would never cross my mind to be reticent with my partner and not share everything that was on my mind with him. It was almost as if there were barriers between the two that would not be crossed, but it worked for the two of them and there was certainly a lot of love shared within the confines of their relationship.When Joyce loses Ray, she loses a significant piece of herself as well, and it was frightening to hear her speak so matter-of-factly about taking her own life in response to losing her husband. She couldn't take the well-meaning condolences her friends and acquaintances offered her, and became very despondent over all the things she now had to deal with. She relates some of the insensitivity that Ray¿s death inspired and speaks at length about the monster that lived inside her soul eating away all that was healthy and good from her life. Joyce was ill-equipped to deal with what was going on around her and often she spoke about having two personalities: the public one that functioned and even smiled and laughed around her friends and colleagues, and the private one that was desperately trying to hold on to life.
mariabiblioteca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This intense and moving portrait of grief was heartbreaking and riveting. But it was also very, very difficult to read, given its subject matter. It's worth the immersion, however. This book changed me, and maybe it will change you, too.