Thursday, March 17, 2011

Joyce Carol Oates, A WIDOW'S STORY

JCO's memoir of the four months following her husband's sudden death from pneumonia. Heartfelt, sensitive, at times sharp, and beautifully written. It took me a full week to read; it's too intense to be read quickly. Comparisons with Joan Didion's YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING are inevitable, although I found the books quite different in tone. The small bits JCO writes about the doctors and hospitals I found alarming and infuriating ... her husband died of an infection acquired at the hospital; the nurse Jasmine is horridly insensitive and inappropriate; her own doctor (Dr. M--, with the exception of Jasmine, JCO names no names) stupidly misdiagnoses her shingles the first time around. But mostly I was left with a feeling of astonishment--that everything she wrote about--the visits to and from friends, the Fed-Ex and UPS sympathy deliveries, the emails and letters, her life with the cats, her lectures, planting the garden, the "death tasks"--happened in four months. Also very interesting was how she finally read the partial manuscript that her husband left behind, in which he represents her (as the character "Vanessa") and she speaks of the artist's need to be able to write and let go.

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