Monday, October 09, 2006

Book Club: A Widow for One Year

I finished this book awhile ago, and am well into my next *amazing* book,The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien. O'Brien is a Vietnam War veteran who has written several books about the war and several books on other subjects. This one is the former. As one of the reviewers says, this is a book of 'faction'. Though it claims to be entirely fiction (supported by one of the essays/stories in the book in which O'Brien dissects a true war story). However, the book is dedicated "the men of Alpha Company, and in particular..." and he lists the names of men who are "characters" in the book. O'Brien uses himself as well. So though this is a work of fiction, it is probably the most personal, honest work of fiction I've ever seen. I'm about half-way through and I'm in love.

But this is supposed to be a discussion of A Widow for One Year, by John Irving. The book is divided into three parts: Summer 1958, Fall 1990, and Fall 1995. It follows a family of writer's, The Coles and the people who surround them. Irving calls this novel "a love story" in his dedication at the beginning of the book. The story involves all kinds of love: friendship, family, sex, dating, and the prospect of finding a mate for life. But the book deals mostly (in its best parts, in my opinion) with love lost, misguided love, misrepresented love, and doomed love. The first part does this best, in my opinion. And it was the only part of the book that kept me involved in the way I expected after reading The World According to Garp.

Don't get me wrong. I still love John Irving. He can build a character in one word and many of his sentences are pregnant pause-worthy. I always know I'm going to disappear into an Irving novel. But some of the relationships in this novel just didn't ring true (I'm thinking especially of Ruth Cole and her best friend, Hannah). And I didn't buy Ruth Cole herself a lot of the time. It's not that Irving has trouble writing women: his skill with Marion in the first part is evidence to the contrary. But Ruth has a few holes and some inconsistencies (again, my opinion).

The first part, also, has the strongest images in the novel. The pictures, the hooks, the drawings, the children's books, the setting. It all really came together for me in the first part. This is the part that the movie: "The Door in the Floor" is based on.

Part of my problem with the second and third parts is that I was reading about writers who I would never read. Ruth Cole is supposedly a very famous writer, but the excerpts from her novels struck me as sophomoric and repetitive. Okay, I get the point - look at John Grisham, right? But I was bored and impatient when I had to sit there and read the fictional authors' work. Unlike in The World...Garp, where I could see the growth and beauty in Garp through his work, the work of the authors in the novel only made me think less of him. Except, of course, for Ted Cole, Ruth's father who writes children's books in the first part.

So there's a quicky little review. I will read Irving again. I'd like to try all of his books. He interests me, even though I know he's popular. I love his characters, and characters are what excite me when I read.

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