A Widow for One Year

A Widow for One Year

Book - 1999
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Random House, Inc.

“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.

Publisher: Toronto (Ont) : Vintage Canada, c1999
ISBN: 9780676971941
Characteristics: 537 p ; ; 21 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Mar 30, 2017

Generally speaking, I love Irving’s multi-plot storytelling and larger than life dysfunctional characters. But this one grew stories within stories and wandered along so many tangents that I kept looking at the page number and calculating how many more pages to go? Thank goodness for the interspersed eroticism that offset the bogged down pace.

Jan 22, 2017

A little too dark and morbid for me with many sub stories that were barely connected to the main. I ended up skipping through half of it. I wouldn't recomend this book.

Irene Staron
Mar 10, 2015

John Irving has the uncanny gift of depicting characters in their fullness. Capturing the subtleties of what motivates behaviour, he presents poignant glimpses of how his characters overcome or succumb to their flaws and weaknesses. Set in the 1950's and spanning to present day his descriptions of the leisured life in the Hamptons brings to life my own memories of summering on Lake Simcoe and in Georgian Bay. One can almost smell the Ban de-Soleil and feel the heat of the sun. An unusual story, a compelling read, I did not necessarily like the characters but Irving's writing is too exceptional to pass up. He makes you want to read more of his works!

Apr 19, 2014

I suppose it would be that one won’t love all the books one reads in a year. This was my first “bust” of 2014. The book is in three portions, following three segments of our protagonist Ruth’s life. First, when she is four and her mother begins an affair with her husband’s assistant who is 16 years old, Second, when she is mid 30s and contemplating marriage, and Third, when she has been widowed about five years after the wedding. The first segment is the strongest of the three. While I found the affair totally gross it’s the best written. But I found adult Ruth to be an incomplete person–there were times where I felt her actions or reactions were completely implausible, and I got really sick and tired of the running commentary on her physical appearance. I hate to say it, but the whole thing seemed like a man trying to write a woman and just not getting it. I can’t say I would recommend this one.

Feb 06, 2014

Started out good, but I did not care for the ending, and the middle part seemed not to go with the rest of the book. Not one of my favorites.

Nov 09, 2013

Irving's 9th novel. He may be a perpetual best-selling author and an Oscar winner to boot (for adapting his own "Cider House Rules"), but I think Irving is a little underrated, at least by the critical establishment who seem to consider him more a craftsman than artist. And he is, but he's better at putting together a novel and creating memorable characters than many of his peers and younger critics' darlings (Franzen comes to mind). If you've read a few of his books, there is plenty here that is familiar and while the plot veers close towards implausible (prostitutes, murder, death, etc.), it's a warm, moving and big-hearted book.

Jul 25, 2013

Great style, as usual; and an entertaining story.

EEMcS Oct 01, 2012

I enjoyed the story. There seemed to be mini stories within the story about characters in the book. All very entertaining, but sometimes it seemed like irrelevant excess detail. I did laugh out loud a number of times.

Oct 01, 2011

I couldn't get past the fact that this book seemed reminiscent of the 1970s and Irving's success with The World According to Garp. Its humour seemed old-fashioned, and I didn't care for it. (Jan 2001)

Aug 03, 2011

An original story about devastating loss and the different ways people cope with the aftermath.
John Irving works his magic as he churns out this tale of heart wrenching struggle intricately woven with humour as only he can. As with all his novels, this is not a suspense –filled page turner but an unfolding drama that draws you in bit by bit, deeper and deeper. Not everyone will like this genre, but for those who do, it is quite a treat.
The first part of this novel was made into a film called “the Door In the Floor” starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. The film is true to the novel.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further



Find it at PPL

To Top