” Countless times I had wondered, as I did on that pink, hazy, tropically warm evening just over a year ago, how Poppy would have handled this daughter differently; if she would have steered Clover to steadier ground—yet not as often as I had wondered what I might have done (or not done) on another, equally sultry summer night to alter whatever simple chain of events had led to Poppy’s drowning in the pond. ” [1:33]
There’s a lot going on in A Widower’s Tale, almost too much.It is rich with the complexities of everyday life, full of remarkable and diverse characters that are suffice to make up a slice of America. Through the clutter of many characters and their crises, the novel overflows with a magnificent, multi-layered richness. However, this book is trumped by the ambition to cover every aspect of what the author might perceive as the problems confronting the world. Every once in a while a slyly placed comment like “It’s a stodgy place—practically Republican” would pop up, something that is neither far from the truth nor does it advance the storyline.
Set in New England, A Widower’s Tale focuses on the lives of four men: Percy, Robert, Celestino, and Ira. Alternating narratives told from their perspectives weave together a tale full of concurrent actions and developments. Only Percy Darling, the widower of the title, is given the honor of having his story told in the first person. His narrative is by far the most engaging and dramatic, alternating between the past and the present, covering life with his deceased wife, single parenthood, and a late romance. His story becomes a unifying point at which the entire skein of characters converge at the end. Percy is 70, a retired Harvard librarian who has spent decades in self-inflicted solitude following the inadvertent death of his wife. He allows his barn to become a preschool in exchange for employment for his rootless older daughter, who is going through a divorce and fighting custody for her two children. The opening of the school brings about drastic changes in Percy’s life, who is resistant to changes and regards any new developments vulgar and outlandish. He is apprehensive about the loss of certain privileges he took for granted.
Elsewhere in my addled psyche, I wondered just how much of a fool I’d been to spend the prime decades of my life so blandly as a monogamist and then a monk in an era of merrily fulfilled concupiscence. Poppy would have been amused to see me loosening up just as the rest of the world is clamping down. [4:114]
The uptight trustafarian finds his world turned upside down as he falls for a younger woman with an adopted son. A contingent complication in the budding relationship emotionally tests him in ways that he would never imagined. To add shame into his roil is his beloved grandson, Robert, an honors pre-med student at Harvard who is believed to most likely follow his mother’s footstep to become a physician, becomes involved in an eco-activism movement that turns violent. Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool, becomes with Percy and Robert. He, too, had been victim of personal exile as he was stigmatized on the account of his sexual orientation. Celestino is an illegal Guatemalan immigrant working as a gardener for Percy’s next-door neighbor. Although Celestino’s story is more gratuitous than necessary, his struggle ultimately upstages Percy’s.
A Widower’s Tale encompasses a truckload of contemporary issues that would baffle the Congress and United Nations combined. The beauty, as it dawns on me later, is not in what “happens” as much as it is the complexity of the characters, who, regardless of their social status and stations, are flawed and authentic. It captures the timeless themes of multi-generational relationships, love and forgiveness, family loyalty and betrayal, the meaning of parenthood, and the intricate web of human conditions. The book is a celebration of interconnectivity of human lives. It also muses on, from Percy’s (the oldest character) perspective that the new changes brought about by advent of technology doesn’t necessary make the world a better place to be. Old values are to be continuously valued.
402 pp. Hardback. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]