Beatrice Schuyler is dead of cancer. Her widower Edward lingers on Larkspur Lane, ironing her clothes to hold onto a grief-filled connection.
Wolitzer’s (Summer Reading, 2007, etc.) insightful novel follows Edward, past 60 but still vigorous, as he fights through despair, frustration and numbness. Bee was only 57, and their 20-year marriage was thoroughly companionable and vibrantly sensual. With Edward trapped in mourning, his friends in the close-knit suburban New Jersey community urge him to re-enter the social whirl, ready to position an extra woman, compatible or not, next to him at dinner parties. Even his stepchildren, Julie, with whom Edward is quite close, and Nick and wife Amanda, are worried. To end Edward’s self-imposed isolation, those three place a personal advertisement in the New York Review of Books. Wolitzer’s Edward lives as an empathetic character, one to be respected and understood in both motivation and action. Edward is also revealed as fragile in a way only Bee comprehended, psychologically withdrawn for reasons that may relate to a love affair in his 20s that ended with Edward being abandoned at the altar. That first love was Laurel, a flighty and emotional fellow teacher with whom he had a passionate, powerfully physical relationship. That romance, as well as Edward’s meeting and marrying Bee a decade or more later, and the comfort he found in his ready-made family, are presented in flashbacks that give the narrative color and depth. Sometimes ironic, sometimes melancholy, Edward’s reluctant “dating after death” begins with toned and hungry Karen hot to finish dinner and head home for a romp in the hay. Roberta would rather talk about her late husband. Sylvia, 70 and shaped to appear 50 by plastic surgery, resigns herself to Edward’s ambivalence. Lizzie, close friend of Edward and Bee, is eager for an affair. Only after Laurel reenters the story does Edward begin to comprehend the man that survived Bee’s death.
Literary fiction drawn out of the everyday world.