Book Review: A Widow for One Year by John Irving (4/5)

8 Mar

I love John Irving. It’s twisted in a way that makes him fun to read and even after reading so many of his books, he can still surprise me. I meant to read this book three years ago with my work book club but I transferred to a new building and it never happened. This book has been looming over my head ever since so I’m glad to finally have finished it.

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

Other books by Irving reviewed on this blog:

In One Person (and Book Club Reflection)
A Son of the Circus

Summary from Goodreads:

In A Widow for One Year, we follow Ruth Cole through three of the most pivotal times in her life: from her girlhood on Long Island (in the summer of 1958) through the fall of 1990 (when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career), and at last in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother (and she’s about to fall in love for the first time).

I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of Irving’s staples in this book. The main character was a writer, it took place in New England, sports were a major part of one or more character’s lives, their intimate relations were a bit screwy, and there was at least one tragic death. I liked Ruth’s character and, unlike many Irving inventions, I actually found her a bit relatable. She made some decisions I never would have made, but she was a genuinely good person in the end and I liked her. The plot wasn’t so unbelievable that it felt like fiction. This book felt like it could really happen.

Ruth wasn’t the only character who seemed real to life. Allan was very realistic and seemed like the kind of man Ruth would have been very happy with. Heck, he seems like the kind of man many women could be happy with. Eddie wasn’t too far from believable. He seemed both shy and forward, which was a bit hard to understand, but he was a good guy, someone I could be friends with. Ted was a little unbelievable to me, but there’s always someone in a John Irving novel whose life and choices are a bit unbelievable and around who the story takes on a fantastical element.

Ruth was my favorite character and having her as the protagonist was a joy. She was strong but loving and she was very sure of herself. I’d love to read some of her novels in full and see what makes her one of the most influential writers of her time. I’d guess it’s similar to what makes Irving so influential today.

Unfortunately, it’s Eddie’s self-doubt and bumbling personality that I related to most. I always feel like I’m making my way through life like a blind spelunker. Things seem to appear out of nowhere no matter how much I plan and there are always rocks to trip on. I liked Eddie a lot because he loved with his whole heart and he was always searching for something. He wanted a perfect ending to his life that he knew he’d have to search for over many years.

John Irving
Image via the author’s website

I enjoyed the part of the book set in Amsterdam. It was a bit of a deviation from what Irving normally writes and I enjoyed exploring another country and another culture from the norm of his books. Rooie was a fun character and I liked learning more about her and what drove her to be a prostitute and how she tried to help younger girls. I thought it was very appropriate that Ruth should go back there and I liked how Harry figured out who she was.

I don’t particularly like books about writers. Hearing about a book the writer wrote but not being able to read that book is frustrating for a bibliophile like me. I also don’t like hearing the premise and being told it was a best-seller or classic. I want to hear the popular opinion, not the author’s idea of popular opinion. Honestly, Eddie and Ruth’s books didn’t sound like they would be best sellers to me and that rubbed me the wrong way while I was trying to enjoy this book.

My edition of the audiobook was narrated by George Guidall. I thought he did a fair job bringing the story to life. I’m always put off by a book about a female protagonist that’s narrated by a man and that’s what seemed off to me about this one. Granted, the book was written by a man and a lot of the dialogue seemed a bit masculine to me. There’s nothing wrong with who Guidell did the narration, just that I would have preferred a female narrator for this story.

There was a major loss in Ted and Marion’s lives that, without being in the book, shaped the whole story. Ruth would not have been born, Eddie would not have fallen in love with Marion, and the characters we met would never have come together. That loss set this whole story into motion. You never know if there’s something positive that can come from loss. Many, like Marion, are too focused on what’s gone that they can’t see what’s coming next. It’s hard to look past grief but when Marion finally did, she met her grandson; a person who wouldn’t exist if her boys had lived.

Writer’s Takeaway: The raw sexuality of some of Irving’s scenes are off-putting to me. He doesn’t use euphemisms and things are always described in what could only be the most gritty details Irving could imagine. I wish he’d tone it down a bit. I wish some of these scenes didn’t make me uncomfortable listening in my car, wondering if my car is soundproof or if the guy in the turn around next to me can hear what’s being said. I think the stories would be the same and the endings would be as enjoyable. Sometimes, I’m a bit nervous to say Irving is one of my favorite writers because I don’t want people to assume I enjoy the gritty scenes he writes. They make me rather uncomfortable.

This is one of my favorite Irving books and by far one of the best I’ve read in a few years. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Post:
Book Review: A Widow for One Year by John Irving | My Seryniti


5 Responses to “Book Review: A Widow for One Year by John Irving (4/5)”

  1. whimsywriter3 March 8, 2018 at 12:31 PM #

    I’d never heard of John Irving before reading this review, but the book sounds interesting and I’ll definitely have to look it up later.


    • Sam March 8, 2018 at 1:29 PM #

      He’s one of my favorite writers. My favorite book of his is A Prayer for Owen Meany. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sheila March 8, 2018 at 2:53 PM #

    I like the sound of the characters, especially the one with the bumbling personality. Of all his novels, I’ve only read The World According to Garp and will have to add this one to the list – thank you! I’ll try not to listen to it in the car though. 🙂


    • Sam March 8, 2018 at 3:09 PM #

      Garp is a great one! A Prayer for Owen Meany is my favorite but this one is for sure in my top 50%. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: