The Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass

CoverThe Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass, is a novel about class as well as family. Percy Darling, curmudgeon and patriarch, is a retired Harvard librarian living in a picturesque New England town. The town is surrounded by historic homes, not least of which is his own. But unlike some others, he has let his own fall to disrepair after the early and tragic death of his wife, Poppy.

The story begins as Percy recounts his barn's conversion into a preschool for "tiny perfect children, along with their preened and privileged parents." (p.1) The book proceeds from the alternating points of view of three main characters: Robert, grandson to Percy; Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool; and Celestino, a Guatamalan day laborer. Ira and Celestino are portrayed as outsiders looking in on this wealthy hamlet, both depending on the beneficence of its residents.

Sandwiched into this mix are Percy's daughters--Trudy, the successful oncologist, and Clover, the free-spirited teacher at the preschool. Like some other characters in the book, she has made youthful and impulsive choices, and now, bears the consequences.

The Widower's Tale touches social issues such as illegal immigration and conservation. Glass is never heavy-handed as she shows the inequities of the class system, shedding light on the lives of immigrant workers who tend the homes of the wealthy.

As in the Three Junes, the dark specter of illness looms over this quiet town. Having finally found passion after years as a widower, Poppy watches as his new love struggles with treatment for breast cancer. Julia Glass does not spare the reader graphic descriptions in this book any more than in her earlier novel.

The Widower's Tale, all 400 pages, is hard to put down. Glass builds a story using humor, sadness, and suspense. She is a writer with whom one identifies, for who has not made regrettable choices, and often, paid dearly for them? All of life is an act of evolving.

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