A family's tragic event--the death of two teenage boys in a car accident--is both the stimulus for a mother's abandonment of her husband and daughter and an ongoing thread weaving its way throughout the rest of this immense story (537 pages) told in three major parts.

Part 1 (1958) is the story of Marion and Ted Cole and their four-year-old daughter Ruth. Struggling to keep afloat in her grief-filled life, Marion is a beautiful, 39-year-old woman who, with her husband Ted, a hugely successful children's author/illustrator, lives an elegant life on Long Island. The focus of Part 1 is Marion's affair with Eddie, a 17-year-old hired by Ted to be his personal assistant but who turns out to be part babysitter to Ruth, and "companion" to Marion. This part of the story is sexy and comic, even as it is full of relentless grief.

Part 2 (1990) finds Ruth as a hugely successful novelist in her thirties. Her life is one long unending string of "bad" boyfriends, and one long question regarding how her mother could abandon her and why she fails to reappear. While in Amsterdam on a book tour, she comes up with the idea for a new book that takes her to the storefront prostitution district of the city, where her authorial curiosity and adventure is met with violence. In this section of the book she marries her agent, has a baby, and seems to be finding contentment for the first time in her life.

Part 3 (1995) occurs four years later, when Ruth as a 41-year-old widow and mother, falls in love. The story comes together finally with the reappearance of Marion Cole, now in her seventies and herself a moderately successful author who had been living quietly alone in Canada.


This novel is one good story. Part 1 is probably the strongest section--the enormously erotic relationship between Eddie and Marion is portrayed with earthy, provocative humor even as readers realize, sadly, how Marion's despair figures into this seemingly empty relationship, and how Eddie's adolescent adoration makes more out of the relationship than Marion seemingly does.

Eddie's reappearance in Part 2 is even more pathetic when we find that he has never married and is still "in love" with Marion. Their reunion at the end of the book is both predictable and ridiculous. Actually, Marion's reappearance, while expected, is not satisfying--it is almost as if the author realized that the story was ending and he needed to tie up some loose ends.

This is ultimately the story of a mother-daughter relationship, even if the daughter, Ruth Cole, seems to be center stage for much of the book, and Marion becomes ghost-like after her disappearance. It is also the story of how grieving can become a life-long self-assignment, utterly changing the way one relates to other family members.

A Widow for One Year would be a fine addition to a course focusing on the family, on parent-child relationships, or on grief. Its length could be a problem even though it is extremely smooth, fast reading.


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count