Thursday, August 08, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books: A WIDOW'S STORY



This is the second time I have read this. The first time it was just because of its good reviews.
More than Joan Didion's book on her loss, JCO's book spoke to me. I think we were both married to men who excelled in taking care of us. Her loss was sudden; mine was long, but both had a lot in common otherwise. Living largely in the academic world, much of it was so familiar. And her early years were in Detroit, which resonated.

She struggled with insomnia, depression. She realized after Ray's death there was a lot of Ray hidden from her. I would agree with this. Do men keep more of their past to themselves than women. I am not sure.

JCO would  marry again within a year, but now her second husband has died. I can't help but wonder if the second time is easier for her. Has the first experience lessened or worsened the second?
And will she write about it? Of course.

14 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

It sounds like a really meaningful, enlightening look at her love and loss, Patti. Thinking of you...

George said...

I read A WIDOW'S STORY when it was published like I do with most of Joyce Carol Oates's work. I liked Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking better. Both books show how these women handled their grief...but in different ways.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Certainly Didion's book is more elegant. But for the person undergoing the experience I believe Oates' book is more useful.

Todd Mason said...

A lot of men of most of our generations have certainly understood they are never to mention their emotional life, if they can help it in any way. I imagine, from one's husband, you can break through that partition to some extent, but perhaps mostly when things are incredibly good or incredibly bad, and particularly in the latter cases there is usually other business to attend to at the moment. I think my father felt betrayed when he thought he was coming to my defense when my mother asked me a question about my feelings in a bit of emotional crisis..."Men don't talk about those things." I said, No, I can talk about it, but it unfortunately won't help too much at the moment...more pessimism than stoicism, I think. My father looked confused and slightly hurt.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I agree with you, Patti. While I liked the Didion as I do like her writing better as a rule, I was quite interested in the Oates book. If I'd had to guess beforehand, I would have bet that she handled the death of her husband better, just based on how she generally comes across. No reason to believe that would be relevant under the circumstances, however, especially since the death was so sudden. Also, the fact that, like you, she doesn't drive (much? - can't remember exactly) probably rang a bell. Yes, I would expect her to write something about the second husband, since she writes about everything else in her life.

J F Norris said...

I think it is to the detriment of all those men that they insist on holding fast to personal traumas and "secrets". Everyone deserves a truly private life, but what of allowing your loved ones inside even for brief moments? My father (born in 1922) tenaciously clung to a private hatred of all things Asian and told me that in all of his extensive and varied world travels during his retirement years he and my mother would never set foot in one continent -- Asia -- and certainly never in Japan. "Why?" I asked him repeatedly. "None of your business!" was always the response. For years I suspected it all stemmed from Pearl Harbor. My father put in his time in the army the very year he was married (1944), but never saw battle. He was a payroll clerk at a Florida Army Air Corps base. What on earth happened there? He never talked about his army career. But I knew "something" forever changed him there. And I'll never know what. Is this fair to his family? Was he sparing us embarrassment? Sparing himself shame? Couldn't we all in the family have benefitted from understanding him a little more? And couldn't he have allowed himself some healing and perhaps forgiveness if he and I and all my brothers were allowed to talk to him about this crushing and bitter secret he carried with him for decades? Maybe, maybe not. But of course I'll never know what could have been. He died taking his secret with him.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And my mother died taking hers with her. They were a secretive generation-my mother born in 1923. I had no idea-nor did anyone including, I think, him that my father was not my birth father until last year. Ray Smith's JCO's husband) had something to do with Catholicism and his alienation from his father.
And my father never discussed the war either.
Jeff, she drove but not much. And never when he was in the car. So many women only drive when their husband is absent. Is it that men don't want to be driven by women or is it women like being driven by men?
Todd-that inability to allow emotions to show is certainly less common now and that is a good thing.

Todd Mason said...

Yes. Particularly when the externally-inculcated machismo isn't in place to lead to abusive explosion as commonly as it once might...because boys will be boys, and it's All Part of Being a Man.

Todd Mason said...

For my parents, it wasn't ever thought out that much...though my father did enjoy driving more than my mother...they, however, did enough marathon driving over the decades that they didn't have too much trouble switching off. That my mother navigated for cross-country motor races my father would drive in, in Alaska in the '60s, probably left them less hung up on What's Manly and Womanly in Cars than some couples.

When Alice drives me somewhere, she often will note that It's All Wrong, an Asian-American woman driving a Mostly White Yank male around. I often make reference to the original casting of one of the mooted GREEN HORNET revivals, with Zhang Ziyi set to play Kato. Even in her car, I will do the majority of the night driving, but that's more a matter of her ungreat night vision than of XX v. XY chromosomes or residual gender-role inflexibility.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I remember when my mother learned to drive in her thirties. My father was far the better driver and did pretty much all the driving (into his 80s) when they were together, but she drove regularly in California and Arizona. My mother in law was a terrible driver - also lacked confidence - and my father in law (a retired cabbie) did all the driving. But he lost a lot as he aged, and he always had me drive when we visited them. His night vision went first and then he started losing his reflexes and had several minor accidents.

pattinase (abbott) said...

All of these are reasons I don't want to start driving now. None of my friends can get how much I would be at a deficit on the road. Your brain has stored a wealth of info mine will not have. But it is hard not to drive in Michigan. And night vision is one of the many.

Todd Mason said...

Well, it probably helped that my mother was second youngest of a large family of siblings, with some of them professional drivers, so she was driving from a young age and grew up comfortable with cars as well.

But while it's a little spooky at first, driving, it can be aa relatively easy learning curve to get over...and, fwiw, we might see enough smart electric cars in the near future that they may not even cost a few limbs (and not just those of the pedestrians they run over at the moment) and that might be a reasonable option. Even with her ungreat night vision, Alice can drive at night, she just would prefer not to if I'm handy or someone else can. (She's not quite as legally blind without her contacts or glasses as my father has been for most of his adult life, but close.)

Mathew Paust said...

My mom grew up on a farm in a large family, and learned to drive probly before my dad did. And she was a good driver, but, because she was shorter and had to sit on a cushion to see thru the windshield, he liked to make fun of her. She was a good sport--putting up with a lot of condescension from him--but I know it hurt her, which I could see as I got older. Culture shapes us, of course, and I know I carried a sense of male superiority from my childhood, with some of those conditioned reflexes no doubt residing in me now. I'm an emotional being, and reveal my feelings more than is generally acceptable for men even today. I try to hide them, hoping not to appear weak, frequently joke about "salt in the eyes" and other silly euphemisms when most people may not feel the same. Hell, when I had a TV and some silly cartoon commercial would have animated figures showing mutual affection, the tears came willingly (if I thought no one would see me). There is no doubt roots to these responses and counter-responses that extend back to our Paleo days. I'm too old to care anymore--especially now that I live alone and have to worry only about my loud laffter or shouts of encouragement to fictional characters in the books I read disturbing the folks at the hair salon that shares my apartment building. They're probly onto the truth of my incipient nuttiness by now, so even loud vocal eruptions are unlikely to prompt a call to 911 (fingers crossed).

As to the JCO book, Patti, I believe I read an excerpt from it way back, or maybe a good review/interview in The Atlantic. I have several of her enormous canon I have not yet read, and A Widow's Story may well be among them.

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