In this memoir, a widow recounts her experiences finding a new relationship and building a house in the Virgin Islands.
Stevens (Goombah Luigi’s Grandson: Memoir of a Jewish Psychologist, 2010, etc.) was in her early 60s and had been widowed for three years when she got a phone call from her old boss Nils Wessell, who’d been chairman of the humanities department where Stevens had taught psychology. They’d seen each other a few times after her husband, Sheldon, died, but Nils didn’t seem that interested. Now, he was inviting her to visit him at his home in Water Island, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Sheldon was special. No one could replace him,” writes Stevens. “And yet…I didn’t want to spend the next thirty years alone.” Her decision to accept his invitation led to a relationship that, despite Nils’ dithering, quickly became serious. In this novellike memoir, Stevens relates how they built a house together on Water Island while they also rebuilt trust, let down emotional walls and found happiness. The most effective and striking parts of the memoir are those that show, with great honesty and emotional precision, the uneasiness of navigating a new relationship after the certainties of a good marriage. Every early hiccup with Nils reminds Stevens that “what I really wanted was my old life. The easy camaraderie I had with a longtime friend and lover. The shared history. The secret communications.” She also shows how courage and patience can overcome such fears. The book is, however, mired in pages of Wikipedia-like tourist-guide information: “[F]ew knew that Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi or that it has a hundred and thirty miles of coast.” Much needless specificity intrudes: “At exactly 5:30 p.m. I exited from south U.S. 95 at Exit 363.” And far too much space is devoted to the excruciatingly dull details of solving red-tape problems, from obtaining building supplies to bureaucratic signatures, plus every small decision over curtains, tiles, decorating colors and so on. Few readers will care.
Offers thoughtful meditations about love after widowhood, but needs tighter focus.