Review: A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates and Raymond Smith in 1972

A Widow’s Story is no ordinary exploration of grief. For one, it’s written by Joyce Carol Oates, one of the world’s greatest living writers, in her signature galloping, highly articulate style. Oates writes about the sudden death of her husband Ray, to whom she was married for more than forty-seven years, and of the paralyzing months spent coming to terms with this terrible loss. Throughout that time, she was pursued by a “beady-eyed basilisk lizard thing” hovering at the edge of her consciousness—her term for the lure of suicide, something she actively resisted.

This intimate account manages to transcend the personal. For such grief is universal, something all of us have or will experience. In the hands of someone as gifted with words as Oates, a light is cast on a subject not normally spoken about except in hushed voices.  And while A Widow’s Story is harrowing, it is also a comfort; the simple fact of putting pen to paper, naming the thing that threatens to destroy, offers strength.

Oates met Raymond Smith in 1960 in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both studied English literature and shared a love of poetry, philosophy, ideas.  They went on to found the Ontario Review, which Ray edited for 34 years, and shared a quiet academic life.   A Widow’s Story is not only an examination of loss, but also a celebration of this long, fruitful marriage and a literary memoir of the highest sort.

A Widow’s Story: A Memoir     

Joyce Carol Oates     

4th Estate     


Review first published in The Courier-Mail in April 2011.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s