What I am Reading – The Widower’s Tale

“In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” – Henry Ward Beecher

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass is the selection for the 2013 Nashua Reads: One City, One Book program. I live in Nashua, NH so I thought I would read it. I am fan of Julia Glass’s writing having read her previous books. I was not disappointed and I am happy to recommend it to you. The Nashua Public Library chose well.

From the writer’s perspective, Glass employs an interesting technique by having the main character, Percy Darling – an unusual choice of name, if you read Peter Pan – narrate his chapters in the first-person and the supporting characters narrate theirs in the third-person. I found it to be an effective way to underline that it really is Percy’s story to tell. The others are there to flesh out his tale and provide the background. Percy is seventy, widowed and set in his ways. A witty grouch, retired from his job as a librarian at Harvard’s Widener Library, at first glance Percy appears to be a stereotyped starched New-England Yankee with a tightly defined worldview. And then he surprises you in a number of bold and endearing ways, proving he is not what he first appears to be. Despite his pretentions and his prejudices, he never loses sight of what he holds dear, namely the people he loves: his daughters, Trudy and Clover, his grandson, Robert, and, his stumbled upon but cherished and younger girlfriend, Sarah.

The supporting characters whose voices also tell the story are all men. Ira, the gay teacher at Elves and Faeries, the preschool Percy reluctantly gives a home to in his barn to provide Clover a job, Celestino the illegal immigrant from Guatemala with a fascinating back story of his own with ties back to Harvard, and Robert, Percy’s much-loved grandson, whose idealistic dreams of saving the world all go drastically wrong. Through it all, I remained a fan of Robert’s.

Of course, the plot wouldn’t be interesting without women and they are there in the story, too. Trudy, the daughter who is the famous oncologist, Clover, the daughter who is the endearing screw-up and Sarah, the artist Percy falls in love with – all multi-faceted and each unique. Even Poppy, Percy’s long dead and much mourned wife, no footnote herself, makes her presence felt.

The Widower’s Tale tackles several large issues – eco-terrorism, breast cancer, illegal workers and covert prejudice against gays – any of which could stand alone as the subject of the book. In lesser hands, they could have gotten horribly muddled. Julia Glass excels at her craft and she deftly entwines them to leave the reader with a satisfied feeling at the end of the story. She is coming to Nashua as part of the One City, One Book program. I can’t wait to hear her speak. This is a wonderful book for the beach, the hammock or a long airplane ride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


The book Nashua, NH is reading this summer

The book Nashua, NH is reading this summer