On a vacation trip to his birthplace in the Thousand Islands, Wayne Harrington, an English professor at a small college in West Virginia (specialty: the Pearl Poet) kills himself with a gun. He leaves three young kids and his 32-year-old wife, Ann, whom he married back when she was one of his students at the University of Pittsburgh. This stunning book from then on is wholly devoted to Ann's struggle with numbness, and the layered power of her coming-to-knowledge is as amazing and bloody as a birth: a new person is being painfully made out of the befuddling death of another. Everything in life was Wayne, yet Ann discovers she knew next to zero about him. Going through his files at school, she finds a student evaluation of the faculty. About Wayne: ""This has got to be the most boring man on earth."" And an eccentric, hard-drinking local poet gives Ann a few clues about Wayne--that a malcontented student threatened him once. But Wayne somehow becomes eerily beside the point. What about Ann? Had she even been a functioning person? So accustomed to thinking of herself as limited, have Wayne's shadowy life and finale robbed her even of the security of her limitations? (She doesn't drive; she teaches herself to do so at night in an old wreck of a car in order to submit time after time to the humiliation of a driving test administered by a misogynistic state trooper.) The Suicide's Wife is less a realistic travail of how to cope (though it is that, and heartbreakingly) than a portrait of a life-and-a-half being made up from scratch. Madden (Bijou) writes here with a startlingly fine probe, separating out strands of self-deprecation from raw and unexpected strengths. The book seems milled by crushing stones, and its punch is very pure.