Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review: The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating by Carole Radziwill

When you say the word widow, what comes to mind? Probably an elderly woman toddling along on her walker, or maybe some slightly less stereotypical version of an older woman, right? Well, in Carole Radziwill's novel, The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating, this is not the case at all. Her widow is nothing like these preconceived societal pictures of widows at all.

Claire Byrne is only in her thirties when her famous sexologist husband Charlie dies. Claire is away in Texas interviewing a professor for a magazine article when she receives the call that her husband is dead. He had been walking to a meeting with his agent after a tryst with his most recent lover (Charlie, adamant that love and sex could never exist in the same relationship, was incorrigibly and unapologetically unfaithful) when a large bronze Giacometti statue dangling from a crane broke its cables, plummeted downward and crushed Charlie. The realization of what Charlie's death means for her own life is slow to hit Claire.

Because she is suddenly single as a young widow, Claire is not certain how she is supposed to grieve or how and when she is expected to reenter the dating world. As she navigates the world unattached, she learns about herself, her role in her marriage, and how to reconcile what the world expects of her with what she wants to do. She endures dinner parties where she is suddenly seen as a potential threat to the wives there. She sees several therapists. She visits a psychic. She consults a botanomanist. She follows a griot on storytelling walks through New York City. She dates a variety of men and even has an on again, off again casual sexual relationship with famous actor Jack Huxley. Because she is supposed to be finishing Charlie's unfinished book about the charismatic actor, it's like her dead husband chose Huxley just for her. But when she really starts examining her life with Charlie, she discovers that she might not have been as happy as she could have been and his death has given her a second chance to find someone with whom to have that elusive combination of sex and love.  Is that Jack or is it someone else?

Radziwill tells this story with dark humor. Certainly her own experiences played into the story, making Claire's feelings of dislocation and confusion over her new state very realistic. The fact that Claire is a wealthy widow, one who doesn't have to worry about finding work or taking care of a family allows the story to focus solely on her quest for reinvention and a comfortable but new identity. The foreshadowing here is a bit obvious and may be even more so for those who know of Radziwill and her own personal life. But in general, this is a cute and amusing tale even if Claire is, at times, strangely obsessed with having sex again, losing her "widow virginity." It has some moments of nice introspection and poignancy but generally maintains a fairly light air.  Unfortunately, the ending is completely predictable and rushed, as if Claire finding the balance she hopes for in life isn't nearly as entertaining as the search is. A quick and easy read, this would be one to tuck into your spring break bag for reading on the beach.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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