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vrijdag 4 juni 2010

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

Great beginning, dying at the end

1958. Ruth Cole is four years old. At that age she is unable to grasp what is going on between her parents. Her father, Ted Cole, writes successful children’s book, but has more attention for young mothers and makes it his life’s mission to paint as many of them as possible. What happens after they have posed for Ted is known to everyone in the family except Ruth. Her mother Marion on the other end is very unhappy and lonely. That’s why Ted hires a young student Phillips Exeter Academy named Eddie O’Hare to officially help him with his writing. But actually his assignment implies keeping Marion happy. This is also not very clear to Ruth. She even gets a terrible fit when she discovers Eddie naked on top of Marion and thinks that he was hurting her mother.

A Widow for One Year starts off very promising. The scenes are often funny, sometimes hilarious, but nevertheless throughout the set-up you get a glimpse of the true pain the main characters must be suffering. The general denominator seems to be how different people try to deal with the same kind of loss. In the case of A Widow for One Year it clearly culminates on the loss of your own children. Although the main characters are depicted with all their faults and foolery, the reader slowly starts to understand the humanity behind the craziness. This build-up is where John Irving shows his craftsmanship and truly hints at the better parts of The World According to Garp. But the something strange happens. It seems as though after the first half of the novel the author loses interest. It wallops between tedium and superficially created action. As though fully aware of the slow pace, John Irving inserts crazy twists without a point. There’s even a murder scène that pops-up out of the blue. Also the denouement is completely predictable in the sense that everything slowly flows to the most obvious conclusion.

Whereas it was a joy to start reading this book, it sadly turned out to become a real struggle to finish it. Irving has written much better novels. Only recommendable for Irving-completists, I’m afraid.

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