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The Widower's Tale

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The Widower's Tale

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In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are...
In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are...
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Description-
  • In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are disrupted, however, when he is persuaded to let a locally beloved preschool take over his barn. As Percy sees his rural refuge overrun by children, parents, and teachers, he must reexamine the solitary life he has made in the three decades since the sudden death of his wife. No longer can he remain aloof from his community, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love.

    One relationship Percy treasures is the bond with his oldest grandchild, Robert, a premed student at Harvard. Robert has long assumed he will follow in the footsteps of his mother, a prominent physician, but he begins to question his ambitions when confronted by a charismatic roommate who preaches--and begins to practice--an extreme form of ecological activism, targeting Boston's most affluent suburbs.

    Meanwhile, two other men become fatefully involved with Percy and Robert: Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool, and Celestino, a Guatemalan gardener who works for Percy's neighbor, each one striving to overcome a sense of personal exile. Choices made by all four men, as well as by the women around them, collide forcefully on one lovely spring evening, upending everyone's lives, but none more radically than Percy's.

    With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about the loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a very particular family. Yet again, she plumbs the human heart brilliantly, dramatically, and movingly.



    From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    "Why, thank you. I'm getting in shape to die." Those were the first words I spoke aloud on the final Thursday in August of last summer: Thursday, I recall for certain, because it was the day on which I read in our weekly town paper about the first of what I would so blithely come to call the Crusades; the end of the month, I can also say for certain, because Elves & Fairies was scheduled, that very evening, to fling open its brand-new, gloriously purple doors-- formerly the entrance to my beloved barn--and usher in another flight of tiny perfect children, along with their preened and privileged parents.

    I was on the return stretch of my route du jour, the sun just gaining a vista over the trees, when a youngster who lives half a mile down my street gave me a thumbs-up and drawled, "Use it or lose it, man!" I might have ignored his insolence had he been pruning a hedge or fetch­ing the newspaper, but he appeared merely to be lounging--and smok­ing a cigarette--on his parents' hyperfastidiously weed-free lawn. He wore tattered trousers a foot too long and the smile of a bartender who wishes to convey that you've had one too many libations.

    I stopped, jogging in place, and elaborated on my initial remark. "Because you see, lad," I informed him, huffing rhythmically though still in control, "I have it on commendable authority that dying is hard work, requiring diligence, stamina, and fortitude. Which I intend to maintain in ample supply until the moment of truth arrives."

    And this was no lie: three months before, at my daughter's Memorial Day cookout, I'd overheard one of her colleagues confide to another, in solemn Hippocratic tones, "Maternity nurses love to talk about how hard it is to be born, how it's anything but passive. They explain to all these New Age moms that babies come out exhausted from the work they do, how they literally muscle their way toward the light. Well, if you ask me, dying's the same. It's hard work, too. The final stretch is a marathon. I've seen patients try to die but fail. Just one more thing they didn't bother to tell us in med school." (Creepy, this talk of muscling one's way toward the dark. Though I did enjoy the concept of all those babies toiling away, lives on the line, like ancient Roman tunnel work­ers, determined to complete their passage.)

    As for the youngster with trousers slouched around his bony ankles, my homily had its intended effect. When I finished, he hadn't a syllable at his service; not even the knee-jerk "Whatever" that members of his generation mutter when conversationally cornered. As I went on my way, energized by vindication, I had a dim notion that the youngster's name was Damien. Or Darius. I put him at fifteen, the nadir point of youth. Had he been a boy of his age some twenty years ago, I would have known his name without a second thought, not just because I would have known his parents but because in all likelihood he would have mowed my lawn or painted my barn (gratefully!) for an hourly wage appropriate to a teenage boy's modestly spendthrift habits. Nowa­days, teenage boys with wealthy parents do not mow lawns or paint houses. If they stoop to any sort of paid activity, they help seasoned citizens learn to navigate the baffling world of computers and enter ­tainment modules, charging an hourly wage more appropriate to the appallingly profligate habits of a drug dealer in the Bronx.

    Damius or Darien might indeed have been the one to coach my own seasoned self through the use of my new laptop computer (a retirement gift that spring from my daughters), and to...

About the Author-
  • Julia Glass is the author of Three Junes, winner of the 2002 National Book Award for Fiction; The Whole World Over; and I See You Everywhere, winner of the 2009 Binghamton University John Gardner Book Award. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her short fiction has won several prizes, and her personal essays have been widely anthologized. She lives in Massachusetts with her family.



Reviews-
  • Maria Russo, The New York Times Book Review "A satisfyingly cleareyed and compassionate view of American entitlement and its fallout. . . The family is society's most inescapable institution, but in Glass's hands it's also the most shifting and vulnerable. And in The Widower's Tale she approaches the ties of kinship with the same joyfully disruptive spirit that animated her previous books."
  • Oprah "An enchanting story of familial bonds and late-life romance. Expect to be infatuated with Glass's protagonist, 70-year-old Percy Darling, he of generous soul, dry wit, and courtly manners."
  • Redbook "Glass effortlessly ping-pongs between three dramas to show how everyday love and lies can make--or completely destroy--a life. This one's perfect for when you've got the night all to yourself and want to keep thinking long after the last page is turned."
  • Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly "Tremendously engaging . . . It's a large, endearing cast, bursting with emotional and social issues, and Glass slips effortlessly between their individual and enmeshed dramas. As she well proved in her National Book Award-winning Three Junes, Glass crafts dense and absorbing reads that are as charming as they are provocative."
  • Bookpage "Both funny and heartbreaking, [Glass's] fourth novel will eave readers examining their own choices and priorities . . . One of the most remarkable aspects of Glass's novel is that she writes convincingly from multiple points of view, classes and stations in life."
  • New York Journal of Books "Alluring descriptions, along with discerning characters, intricate plot lines, and the tackling of several complex issues offers an empathetic yet lively read."
  • Publishers Weekly, starred review "Glass spins a beautifully paced, keenly observed story in which certainties give way to surprising reversals of fortune . . . Glass handles coalescing plot elements with astute insight into the complexity of family relationships, the gulf between social classes, and our modern culture of excess to create a dramatic, thought-provoking, and immensely satisfying novel."
  • Kirkus, starred review "Glass's perfect plot gives each character his or her due, in an irresistible pastoral tragicomedy that showcases the warmth and wisdom of one of America's finest novelists, approaching if not already arrived at her peak."
  • Booklist (starred review) "Elaborately plotted and luxuriously paced, Glass's inquisitive, compassionate, funny, and suspenseful saga addresses significant and thorny social issues with emotional veracity, artistic nuance, and a profound perception of the grand interconnectivity of life."
  • The New York Times Book Review "Rich, intricate, and alive with emotion . . . An honest portrait of sister-love and sister-hate--interlocking, brave, and forgiving."
  • People "One doesn't read so much as sink into a Julia Glass novel, lulled into an escapist reverie by her mastery . . . A novel that begins as sophisticated diversion [becomes] a haunting dissection of human fragility."
  • Chicago Tribune "[Glass's] second novel is even finer than her first . . . Her characters are enticingly complex, their predicaments are provocative and significant . . . Her love for animals, feel for landscape, and ardor for language itself feed the freshness, sensuousness, and compassion that make this such a nourishing and pleasurable read."
  • Rocky Mountain News "Beautiful and satisfying, chock-full of the gorgeous, heartbreaking stuff that makes life worth living."
  • The New Yorker "Enormously accomplished . . . Rich, absorbing, and full of life."
  • The New York Times Book Review "Brilliantly rescues, then refurbishes, the traditional plot-driven novel . . . Glass has written a generous book about family expectations--but also about happiness."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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