A Widow for One Year is a story about Ruth Cole, told in three parts. For the first part of the book, she’s only four years old. In the second, she’s in her 30's, a successful writer. In the last part of the book, she is 41, widowed, and the mother of a one year old.
The story is both tragic and farcical. When it opens, her two older brothers have both perished in a car accident. (Something Ruth doesn’t have the capacity to understand, and her mother doesn’t have the capacity deal with .) Ruth’s the third child, made by parents trying to keep it together. The book opens with Ruth’s mother having sex with her 16-year-old baby sitter, Eddie, and Ruth walking in on them.
Ruth’s mother eventually leaves. (Eddie never gets over his infatuation, even though later in life he falls in love with Ruth.) Both Ruth and Eddie wait nearly 40 years for Ruth’s mother to return.
There’s a lot of drama in this book: Ruth is raped by her father’s friend, her father commits suicide over it, Ruth is widowed shortly after being married (foreshadowed by the curse of another widow) and later she witnesses the murder of a prostitute in Amsterdam.
There should have been enough “story” here to keep anyone interested, but I found the book plodding and dull. It was like the events were told so matter of factly, that they didn’t mean anything. It’s as though Irving didn’t care enough to tell it well.
It was a quick read, nonetheless, but I can’t say I enjoyed it.