A Widow for One YearBook - 1999
“One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking—it was coming from her parents’ bedroom.”
This sentence opens John Irving’s ninth novel, A Widow for One Year, a story of a family marked by tragedy.
Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character—a “difficult” woman. By no means is she conventionally “nice,” but she will never be forgotten.
Ruth’s story is told in three parts, each focusing on a critical time in her life. When we first meet her—on Long Island, in the summer of 1958—Ruth is only four.
The second window into Ruth’s life opens on the fall of 1990, when she is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career. She distrusts her judgment in men, for good reason.
A Widow for One Year closes in the autumn of 1995, when Ruth Cole is a forty-one-year-old widow and mother. She’s about to fall in love for the first time.
Richly comic, as well as deeply disturbing, A Widow for One Year is a multilayered love story of astonishing emotional force. Both ribald and erotic, it is also a brilliant novel about the passage of time and the relentlessness of grief.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of John Irving's A Widow for One Year . We hope they will give you a number of interesting angles from which to consider this entertaining and remarkable novel. Irving gives us a novel about a family marked by tragedy. His central character, Ruth Cole, is a complex, self-contradictory character - a 'difficult' woman. Ruth is a bestselling novelist whose writing is more imagined than her own life experiences. A Widow for One Year is Ruth's story, told in three parts, each focussing on a critical time in her life. The first time we meet Ruth is in 1958, when she is only four years old. The second is in 1990, when Ruth is an unmarried woman whose personal life is not nearly as successful as her literary career. The novel closes in 1995, when she is a widow and mother. Along the way Ruth must deal with the demons of her past - two dead brothers, a grief-stricken mother who disappeared from her life when she was only four, and Ted Cole, her sexually promiscuous father whom she finds in bed with her best friend. Ten Cole is a beloved writer of children's stories, a loving father bearing up under the nightmare of his sons' premature death. A Widow for One Year is a moving, erotic, richly comic novel about the passage of time and relentlessness of grief.