Tuesday, November 15, 2011


"Too late, this is a sinkhole I have blundered into—the kissing, the hugs, the bright exclamatory voices—I am plunged in to a blackness ten times black—as Melville would have said the blackness of the soul without hope—staggering away seeing again with such hallucinatory vividness it’s as if I am there, again—I have never left..."
—page 351, A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates.


Plain and simple, this memoir is sad. I found myself reading it slow and steady, absorbing it in small chunks and at a constant, consistent pace. I found myself meditating not only on the death of Ray Smith and the grief of Joyce Carol Oates as she mourns the loss of her husband, but of my own mortality. I fear losing The Wife should she die first, but fear more for her should I be the one to depart before her.


Joyce Carol Oates spares us none of the madness, terror, suicidal thoughts, moments of remembrance and brief respite from the pain experienced during her journey through grief. She does leave us with a bit of hope toward the end of the book, although it is a strange and tarnished hope. She isn't done grieving.


This book feels cathartic. As she writes down the darkness upon the page, I can almost feel a healing on the other side of the writing. This is what keeps me reading it. This is perhaps part of the slouching, trembling, less-than-perfect hope that shuffles along toward the book's conclusion. This act of writing, of defiance, of exploration and experience, is what keeps me engaged as a reader, even through the difficult passages, the pain of another.

Like Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which covers similar terrain, you need to journey within this book's words and sentences, to learn from a fellow wanderer on this world, and to reflect upon your own life and love and death.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well said, Troy. I have only read an excerpt of this, but I am a huge fan of Oates' work. Have you read her fiction? Very dark and moving in a different way. In this memoir she gives voice to grief, in many of her novels I have found that she gives a voice to the voice-less. Or, at least illuminates voices that aren't often heard. I bought her journals from the 70s at Powell's and have been enjoying it in chunks- inside a prolific writer's head. So many of her words make sense and her commitment to the craft of admirable. ~Maeve