Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

"How to talk to a widower" by Jonathan Tropper (Orion, 2007)

Douglas, when 26, married a 37 y.o. divorcee, Hailey, who had a 13 y.o son. 3 years later she died in a plane crash leaving Doug with a house. Russ, the son, has fallen in with a bad lot, but Doug has enough problems of his own. He thinks "I can't look anyone in the eye for more than a second or two, but ask me a simple question and I'll pour my heart out uncensored" (p.36). When he looks at the rabbits on his lawn -

they remind me of where I am, marooned out here in this life I never planned. And then I get pissed at Hailey, and then I get sad, and then, never one to be left out, my self-pity kicks in like a turbine engine, and it's like this endless, pathetic spin cycle where all the dirty laundry goes around and around and nothing ever gets clean. So I throw things at the rabbits. Small rocks mostly - I keep a stash stacked like a cowboy's desert grave (p.10)

Some of Hailey's friends still drop meals off for him, even after a year. He's cautious about having an affair with one of them, but it happens anyway. He writes a column called "How to talk to a widower" for a magazine. His agent has major book-publishers interested. Doug rejects it all. Some chapters are these columns. Some chapters are e-mail exchanges. It's all very readable. The dialog's snappy, yet stays in character. Passages range from slapstick through witty to thoughtful -

  • She'd worn her heels to bed and commanded me to slap her ass while she rode me like a cowgirl. In the morning she went through all five stages of grief before breakfast (p.56)
  • People want to make sense of their lives, ... like the celestial forces of the universe are a team of writers on the serialized television show of your life, charged with concocting outrageously convoluted plotlines designed to achieve resolution by the end of the season. No one wants to believe that it's all completely random, that the direction of our lives is nothing more than a complex series of accidents, little nuclear mushroom clouds, and we're just living in the fallout (p.57)
  • that's what you need with a beautiful woman, some chink in her armor that gives you the guts to approach (p.59)
  • Claire says she got the brains and the looks and I got the spare parts in case anything ever breaks down (p.64)
  • My mother nods, and loops her arm through mine. "Here's what will happen. When we get home he'll want to make love repeatedly, and then he'll lie in bed holding me, telling me stories about you all when you were kids, or about when we were first dating, and I'll stay up as long as I can, holding on to him, not wanting to miss a minute of it ... And when I wake up tomorrow morning, he'll be urinating in the flowerbeds .. And I'll hide under my covers crying and wondering when and if I'll see him again ... You lost your wife, Douglas. My heart breaks for you, it really does. But I lose my husband every day, all over again. And I don't even get to mourn (p.113)
  • If there's an afterlife, and they can hear you, shouldn't they be able to hear you from anywhere? What's the theory here, that talking to the dead requires range, like a cell phone, and if you go too far the call gets dropped? I know that if I were a spirit, the last place you'd find me haunting would be my grave, watching my body rot. I don't like looking in the mirror on my best days (p.140)
  • after Hayley died, the married guys saw me as the perfect excuse to make these trips. Going to a strip club might be a seedy and wretched act of misogyny but bringing me along transformed it into a humanitarian mission, a noble act of friendship and compassion ... I found myself being dragged along on one of these outings like a team mascot; not one of the players, but there to foster team spirit (p.204)
  • that's the genius of the system, really, pigeonholing the kids on the margins so that they can't even connect with each other, which would grow their number and threaten the ruling class (p.278)

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