LaineyBooks: How to Talk to a Widower

October 24, 2007 14:57:08 Posted at October 24, 2007 14:57:08
Lainey Posted by Lainey

Thrilled that many of you are enjoying the book section. Please do keep sending your recommendations. Am honoured to know what you are reading. Thank you, love you, owe you.

And when the section is finally live, all past reviews will be posted to the page proper. Until then, this week’s instalment.

Next up will be The Book of Stanley by Canadian author Todd Babiak.

How To Talk to a Widower

By Jonathan Tropper

Ignore the cover. The cover is piss. I promise –what’s inside is not what the cover represents.

It’s really a shame the books they shortlist for literary prizes almost always exclude the ones that hit home on a contemporary level. The ones that reflect a pop culture perspective while still exploring poignant and often painful subjects. Because while the selections that are ultimately honoured are indeed outstanding and unquestionably do add value to the literary fabric, just because a novel isn’t steeped in longwinded prose with sweeping morose historical reflection doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not equally as timeless or, for that matter, enjoyable. On occasion, maybe even more so. Humour is so underrated.

How To Talk to a Widower tells the story of Doug and his hilariously dysfunctional family as seen in the aftermath of his wife’s death in a plane crash. He is lost, he is hurting, he is soooo funny, and yet his grief is so authentic and so relatable, you begin to wonder whether or not the story is a memoir as opposed to a work of fiction.

The ending, yes, is a bit far fetched. But then again…not really. Is violence in minivan suburbia really so unfathomable? I think not.

I’ve said often that if it came down to it, I’d want my husband to go before I do. Not because I’m selfish and can’t wait to widow-f&ck my way through the heartbreak but because the thought of him existing without me, alone and aching and lost, is too much to bear. I know he simply couldn’t survive.

And reading how Doug tries to cope through the loss of his life mate only confirms that conviction. It is not the kind of suffering that makes you want to stop half way through and beg him to get over it. He isn’t weepy. He isn’t limp. He is man all the way and he is living every day knowing that every day is one more day to recovery – and as much as that should be a good thing, he also knows it’s a sh-t thing, because one day he’ll be ok. And how do you live with being ok without living with the love of your life?

It’s not the most profound of sentiments, obviously not unique. But Tropper’s spin on it is refreshing. His anger is refreshing. His language is refreshing. His version of grief is not lyrical. In fact, it is almost crass. As such, it seems more real:

“And whatever you do, do not attempt to empathise. Don’t whip out your own tragedy like a secret fraternity handshake. This misery wants no company. I don’t want to hear about your father’s car crash, your mother’s heart attack, your sister’s slow death from leukemia. My sorrow trumps all others, and I don’t want to be mucking about in your grief any more than I want you mucking about in mine.”

And then there’s the comedy. Doug is surrounded by a cast of characters who in engage in some of the sharpest, snappiest, most amusing dialogue I’ve read in a long time. In particular, his relationship with his twin sister offers the kind of exchange you really do wish could be illustrated in a movie. Only too often movies manage to f&ck it up.

There’s also Debbie, another sister, who’s “always been an aspiring anorexic, cheered on enthusiastically by our mother” and the mother is a gem. Functioning alcoholic, former actress, dramatic and vain “who long ago lost sight of the line between real behaviour and the depiction of it, is also high on Vil Pills and alcohol, which means her relationship to reality is even more compromised than usual.” Snort.

I loved the mother. Because she reminded me of mine. Only my mother doesn’t drink or drug but loses herself instead at the mall and then the casino but always makes sure there’s a pot of Chinese soup for dad on the stove before she heads out.

Every connection pulses with so much genuine emotion, it’s truly remarkable that a book that can easily and mistakenly be passed off as “prick lit” can achieve such depth outside the formula of a traditional “heavy” tome.

Finally, the anecdotes. Tropper has the gift of comedic comparison that may be lowbrow for some but that rings true each and every time.

Most memorable for me is how he relates pity to farting. Self pity is like your own fart, he posits – you can tolerate the smell of your own gas but when it comes to others, immediate evacuation is required. Gross… yes. But is it really disputable? Not at all.

Should it be a movie? A rare occasion – absolutely. If made properly, How To Talk to a Widower would be a huge hit. I see Heath Ledger tackling Doug. Or maybe if he actually learns how to act – Ashton Kutcher too. Especially since like Doug, he married an older woman. Be interesting to see his interpretation.


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